I decided to go for a swim. Nothing unusual except that I am in Japan and my knowledge of the language is rather limited. What I know is that somewhere near the “Sagamiono” stop station (one stop away from where I am staying) there is a public swimming pool. I got the information from a Japanese colleague who forwarded me a website address in Japanese. All I can understand on that website is the picture of a nice pool. I go down to ask the front desk. I am not staying in a hotel but in a “weekly appartment building”. They do not catter to tourists (which is a good thing as there are hardly any tourist here in Machida) but to Japanese travelers, renting studio appartment at a cheaper rate than an hotel. The front desk woman does not speak a word of English, nor French.
I try the few words I know in Japanese. She tells me to wait. About 10 minutes later, she is back with a printout from the web, showing a private health club that seems to be nearby. The price is outrageous. Something like $30 for an entrance pass valid twice. I decide to go exploring the Sagamiono station.
Once there, my first stop is a private health club that I saw marked on the orientation map at the train station. About 10 minutes of exploring walk, I end up in a lounge with soothing music and massage chairs. Everything around me looks like in the US. The big “Whey Protein” containers for sales with pictures of diformed people looking proud of themselves, the TV above the counters, the TVs above the treadmills that I can see in a corner of the next room. After a very short discussion “No pool. Members only”, I am sent to the other side of the train station, the other side of the tracks to look for another private club “Live” where, I am told, I can find a pool.
I get there to find that “Yes pool. but sorry: members only”. Fortunately, not only a young staff member speaks English perfectly, he is eager to practice and after sending his colleague to print out the directions to the public pool, he keeps asking me if there is anything else I want to know. I ask him about Japan, how he came to speak English so perfectly (a very rare occurance here) and after bowing and enough “arigato goisamasoo-ing” (about 5 on my count), I’m on my way to the bus station where, armed with the printout of the directions, it is easy to board the correct public bus for the pool.
We pass an American base on the way. I see houses with a lot of green around, signs to keep out, and a large wire fence around.
The pool is all I expected a Japanese pool to be: clean, clean and clean. The entrance fee is about 3$ but the charge is only valid for 2 hours. Any additional time has to be paid for. I don’t plan on staying that long. Just wanted to shake off the long flight in and relax in prevision of an heavy week of work.
There are lockers available (1$) and private stools to change (never seen in the US) and then I am in water. The deepest end is about 5 foot deep and lap swimming is done by changing lane on the back and forth. There is one line to swim one way and another line to swim back. Efficient way to minimize the number of lanes reserved for lap swimming. I am the only westerner in a pool.Most of the people came in with kids (it is Sunday after all) and there is a large number of older people (there is what looks like a communal restaurant for old people at the entrance of the pool). So I swim back and forth, bowing in the water with a “dozo” to allow someone to pass me (I am not a fast, nor a good swimmer). I am starting to relax fully when I hear a witsle. I ignore it thinking it is directed to one of the kids playing in the nearby lane but as I am readying to swim back, a woman taps on my shoulder. She is about 60 with a very kind face and a soft smile. “Rest now” she says. I look at her, uncertain of what she means. “Rest now. No swim”. I look around. Everybody is getting out of the pool. It is rest time for everybody. Every hour, from 10-off to the full hour, everyone and the pool take a 10 mn break. It does not matter that one just arrives and does not need to rest. It’s mandatory rest time. I look at people standing around the pool and some who are walking toward a small room on the side. Japan is a smoking country. Smoke is everywhere so my first thought is that this is the smoking room but then it just does not make sense. Even in Japan, people just don’t swim and smoke. So I have a closer look and realize that it’s a sauna. Nice dry heat. People sitting in silence, enjoying this imposed rest time.
I slowly gets the heat enters my body, completely relaxed now. A nice break indeed.
Still I cannot get over the irritation to have it imposed on me by some rules. I am all for taking breaks when swimming, I just don’t see why it should be imposed by the pool rules and be the same for everyone.
I laught at the thought of such rule in the US or in France and again realize how lucky I am to live there rather than here.