Like most residents here, I am a frequent user of a Japanese bath — the ofuro. But unlike other people, I have no idea if it makes me clean.
I assume it does. I don’t spy any obvious grime. I think I smell sweet enough, and my wife agrees. But who knows? Her nose and mine are both at the mercy of the very same ofuro.
Which has no lights.
“Bathing in the dark.” That’s not a song by Springsteen. It’s my life.
It’s a situation I could remedy at any time. Any time, that is, when I have an extra million yen.
We purchased the house — then fully lit — about 10 years back. A house built like a box — a modest box, with various tight compartments, perhaps the largest of which was the bath.
Scroll through the years: We eat, we sleep, we bathe. In various orders. And then one day, the light in the ofuro begins to blink.
“Change the light,” says my wife.
“Wait for it to die,” says I. For I always aim at squeezing out every last ounce of electric juice before refilling the pot. Skinflint? Lazybones? Perhaps both.
So we bathed in strobe light for six months until the fateful day arrived. The light switch brought no response. Our bathroom light had entered that great junk pile in the sky.
I stood on a chair and tried to screw off the cover. But it refused to budge.
I hunted for a secret latch. It refused to be found.
I tried various pushes, pull, jiggles and head butts. The cover would not yield.
I applied the finest four-letter words I knew. The cover just laughed them off.
“What are you?” my wife asked. “Incompetent?”
I argued back that, no, I was highly skilled — both at selecting homes and wives. Words to which she could not respond.
We bathed then by candlelight. Romantic? Yes. Smelly? Very. Illuminating? No.
But I am a modern man, and was not about to be beaten by a mere light cover. So I next employed the most powerful do-it-yourself tool known to civilization: YouTube — where an assortment of house-fixing wizards taught magic ways to uncap stubborn lights.
Unfortunately, our ofuro lay in a magic-free zone. And the cap did not subscribe to YouTube. It hung there and yawned at all my efforts. I even Googled newer and stronger swear words, but not even they would work.
When all else fails, there remains one final alternative: money.
I would hire a repairman. I would submit to his sneers — “What? You can’t even change a light!?” — and I would pay his outrageous fee, which, while common enough for life in Japan, in most lands would be defined as robbery.
The repairman arrived. And he brought a buddy — someone to share snickers with. As in: “We’re working in the wrong place. Overseas, people can’t even change their lights!”
And the first of the two set upon it. He tried brute force. He tried tools and gizmos. He even tried Japanese curse words. Why hadn’t I thought of that?!
But the only result was that he was soon dripping in sweat. He needed a bath. At least I think he did; it was too dark to see.
His friend brought a flashlight and a new attitude. “Let me try!” More of a command than a request. The tone implied that he was about to show us what a true man was like.
And he did. That is, if you feel true men are emotional, sweaty and inept. He clawed at the cover with his bare hands and screamed. Thanks to the flashlight, we could see him slobber.
All to no avail.
I brought cold drinks and the three of us exhaled frustration as we pored over the blueprints. There had to be a way.
And there was — advice which the men kindly offered in lieu of payment: “Tear down your house and rebuild.”
Or, they suggested, at least tear down the ofuro. It might cost a million yen or so. The second guy tapped the light cover with a wrench.
“And that’ll teach you!” A sentiment I reinforced with a shaking fist!
But once out of the dark and into the light, I paused.
A million yen? To change a light bulb?
Japan has a high cost of living; that’s a fact. But this was more fantasy — and considering my bank balance, perhaps more of an ultimate fantasy.
“So,” says my wife, “what is your solution?”
“I know my own body parts. Add water. Add soap. Who needs lights?”
“Certainly not mold,” she threw in.
And thus when not bathing or showering, we open the window and apply toxic lubricants to the walls, to kill fungi, as well as my sense of pride.
“How long can we keep this up?”
The future, I tell her, is unpredictable. All we can really know is the past.
And so far? So far it’s been two years.