I have been going to the swimming pool for over 6 months. It is a daily temptation to skip swimming time because I just don't like doing exercise. I have a set quota of laps that I aim for and then I walk around in the pool chatting with people. I've made quite a few friends.
Miyako-san who lived in the States for 15 years. We talk in English.
Mr. Takahashi who tells a lot of jokes that I don't understand.
Shota-kun who will be going into high school. He likes to practice English.
Kiyoko-san who gives me sweets and asked me to keep a friendship log with her. We write messages to each other in a notebook.
After swimming everyone takes advantage of the nice bathing facilities before going home. (Male-female separate!) There is a locker room with hundreds of lockers, a large bathing room with about 20 handheld showers and faucets, and a wall of mirrors and hairdryers for after the bath.
Getting out of the pool we grab a "bucket" and a stool, go into the bathing room, find a spot in front of one of the showers and either squat or use the stool while soaping up. With neighbors on each side, conversations started in the swimming pool continue through the shampooing and scrubbing. Public bathing is the norm and it doesn't fluster me at all anymore. After sudsing up and rinsing off we all congregate in a very large hot bath and the conversations go on and on. I can't stay in the hot water as long as the other ladies... it makes me light headed... and then it is back to the locker room to change clothes, put on make up and chat some more. Bathing is definitely a social event.
I'm used to all this, but the other day my friend Kiyoko-san surprised me by suddenly scrubbing my back for me.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!"
This is a sign of friendship, of family, of caring. One will often see children scrubbing mom's or grandma's back and vice versa. Younger women will scrub the older one's back and then hand over the sponge to take their turn. Between friends there are a few protests such as
"You don't have to do that! Let me scrub yours."
but it is an accepted gesture of friendship and I accepted Kiyoko-san's gesture and returned the favor a couple days later. Not the same as buying your friend lunch but taken in the same manner.
"Scrub a dub, dub. Three men in a tub." (Or 5 or 10 ladies...)