Tuesday, February 14, 2006


From our former home by the northern Ohio banks of Lake Erie, Maureen and I took broad aim across North America and the Pacific, and managed to slingshot ourselves from the heart of one rustbelt smack into another.

Okay, so maybe rustbelt isn’t quite the right term here. The rocky coastlines, rugged volcanic mountains and fields of wildflowers in Japan’s northernmost island hardly bring to mind the bombed out Midwestern steel towns of the 1970s. However, there are at least a few who call this little peninsula near the island’s far southwestern corner “the armpit of Hokkaido.” As one who sees both the necessity and beauty of industry (tragic as it sometimes is), I take issue with that moniker. Be that as it may, the smoke-belching steel mill stacks and nearly empty, pealing paint apartment buildings speak truth. Muroran is an industrial city whose glory days have passed.

From a peak of nearly 150,000 residents in the 1980s, the population has steadily fallen to just under six figures. Most new development in the region takes place several kilometers east of downtown, in Higashi (east) Muroran, where pass both the main railway and the new expressway. It was not without some amazement, then, that Maureen and I stepped into the sparkling, modern swimming complex located right beside gritty downtown and not 15 minutes walking from our apartment.

Nor was it without some anxiety.

Maureen has known of the pool for the duration of her stay, but had put off her first visit until the depths of blah gray winter left us longing for some other physical activity than simply trying to stay upright on a walk along the snowy, icy roads and sidewalks. Why such apprehension over visiting a pool, you might ask. Put that pool in a place where the staff speaks a different language and the patrons have very particular, specific and sometimes mysterious habits, then re-evaluate your thoughts on the matter.

“Wonder how many things we’ll do wrong tonight?” I asked Maureen as we left the apartment.

“This will be an adventure,” was her only reply.

Standing inside the swimming complex's foyer, we removed our shoes on the tile entryway before proceeding onto the carpet. So far, so good. Then came the matter of what to do with our shoes. There were only a couple of pairs waiting by the door, and no sign of storage racks. While standing there looking like the two lost foreigners we were, a smiling cleaning lady came up and handed us two large plastic bags, motioning for us to put our shoes inside them, then take the bags with us to the locker room. From the man at the front desk, we learned that the pool would be opened for another hour, until 7:00, and that admission was 300 yen each, which we paid there. The man gave each one of us a plastic card, directed us toward the locker rooms, then casually asked if it was our first visit. We nodded vigorously.

Another man emerged from the office carrying a plastic card like the ones we were holding, and some sort of locking mechanism. He demonstrated that we were to insert our cards into the locking mechanism, then lock it and remove the key. We would soon discover these self-same locking mechanisms on the lockers inside the locker rooms.

Wishing each other good luck, we disappeared into our separate quarters.

Inside, I stripped, donned my swimming trunks, stuffed my clothing into my locker, locked it per the instructions I had just received and strapped the key around my wrist. Taking only my towel, I showered and headed for the pool. Just before passing through the glass door separating the locker rooms from the pool area, I was met by several jets of water, which narrowly missed my towel but had no trouble re-soaking my entirity. Leave it to the Japanese to automate pre-swim showers.

I tentatively stepped into the pool area. There appeared to be a youth swimming class underway in the first several lanes of the big pool. To the rear, I spied what looked like two lanes of open swimming. There were a few folding chairs and shelves along the walls, so I made for one. I was promptly stopped by a lifeguard.

The woman, wearing blue shorts and a white t-shirt, pointed at my head and said something in Japanese. I returned a blank look. She then pointed at all the other swimmers, each wearing tight-fitting swimming caps. She said something else in Japanese and I made out the word “cap-poo.” I shook my head “no” and made a cross with my hands. Having made her point, the lifeguard now smiled and tried to assure me that everything was going to be okay. She motioned for her companion to go into the storage room. The other woman soon emerged carrying a neon green swimming cap. Nearly every other cap in the building was black. It was at this point that Maureen walked out. Immediately upon seeing her, the other lifeguard stopped in her tracks, about-faced, and disappeared back into the storage room. She returned with another swimming cap, this one black, which she handed to Maureen. I was given the fluorescent green one.

We apologized for our egregious oversights, thanked the lifeguards for their generous help, waited a moment to see if they had anything else to say to us, then slowly made our way toward the opposite side of the pool. The women smiled, bowed, smiled again and returned to their posts.

We put down our towels on a wooden shelf along the wall and surveyed the pool. The swimming class continued, while in front of us, two lanes, wider than the others, were occupied by a few swimmers making leisurely laps. We descended the ladder into the lane along the edge of the pool, let our bodies adjust to the water temperature and exchanged nervous glances.

“You go first.”

“Oh, no! Please, after you.”

I kicked off from the wall into a slow freestyle down the lane. Maureen followed. After a lap and a half without incident, we were standing in the opposite end of the pool for a short rest. Thinking I’d try a little backstroke, I pulled up to the wall, pushed off on my back, and began making big circles with my arms, looking at the ceiling to stay on course. Within a few strokes, the second lifeguard was standing beside me.

With a patient and understanding tone, she articulated a long sentence that meant absolutely nothing to me. I apologetically shrugged my shoulders and shook my head. Maureen had joined me now and the lifeguard made a second attempt. Something she said registered with Maureen, who turned to me and said, “on foot.”

I looked around. The other people in our lane, two middle-aged men, we were slowly walking the length of the pool. The closer one, just passing us, turned, smiled, and said “walking” in English. I nodded. Turning back to the lifeguard, I nodded again and said “wakarimasu” (understand). She smiled, nodded, bowed, smiled again, and returned to her place by the wall.

Maureen and I moved to the next lane and swam a few more laps. Growing tired, we decided to try water walking, and, falling in behind one of the men, found it more difficult than we had imagined. From there, we went on to succeed in using the hot tub and chatting with a young Japanese couple without doing anything to warrant correction from the lifeguards.

With 7:00 approaching, we swam and walked a few more laps and headed for the locker room. I returned our caps to the first lifeguard and turned to go through the glass door. She stopped me and showed me a metal door that I could use to bypass the automatic showers. Obliged, I returned to the locker room, took a proper shower, dressed, and entered the lobby to meet Maureen. Not seeing her, I removed my shoes from their plastic bag and placed them on the foyer floor, then looked around for someplace to put the bag. Seeing nothing obvious, I wadded it up and wandered over to the vending machines in the corner.

As I dropped my bag into the trashcan, I noticed the cleaning lady eyeing me from across the room. She made no move, so I returned to browsing the contents of the vending machines. As I was purchasing a bottle of iced tea, the cleaning lady crossed the room, reached into the trashcan, fished out my bag, and began carefully wiping it off with her rag.

“Gomenasai!” I exclaimed (Sorry!), approaching her. Once again I made the international symbol for clueless foreign idiot by shrugging my shoulders. Continuing to wipe off the bag, she led me past the bin of dry plastic bags to a bin of old newspapers. She indicated that this was the bin for used shoe bags, even though there were none currently residing in it.

“Wakarimasu!” I gleefully exclaimed in a voice just below a shout of rapture.

The cleaning lady eventually concluded her meticulous wipe down of my shoe bag and went about her business. When Maureen came out of the women’s locker room, I was ready.

“What do we do with our bags?” she asked. “It seems a shame just to throw them away.”

“Let me show you what I learned!”

I led her to the used bag bin and picked up one of the rags, whereupon I was promptly hailed by the man behind the front desk. With much animation, he indicated that we needed only to leave our used bags in the bin. Cleaning them was solely the responsibility of the staff.

We smiled, laughed, thanked him, and turned to put on our shoes.

“Where’s your card?” Maureen asked me. “Did you turn it in already?”

“My card? Oh! … my card … it’s still in my locker.”

Turning sheepishly, I walked back into the locker room to retrieve it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...



A片,色情,成人,做愛,情色文學,A片下載,色情遊戲,色情影片,色情聊天室,情色電影,免費視訊,免費視訊聊天,免費視訊聊天室,一葉情貼圖片區,情色,情色視訊,免費成人影片,視訊交友,視訊聊天,視訊聊天室,言情小說,愛情小說,AIO,AV片,A漫,av dvd,聊天室,自拍,情色論壇,視訊美女,AV成人網,色情A片,SEX,成人圖片區