Being a die hard water baby, I wasn’t about to leave Japan without going to an onsen (bathhouse). Three challenges lay between me and the dream. The first hurdle is that thanks to the Japanese mob, the yakuza, tattoos are not allowed in onsen. On anyone. Doesn’t matter whether you are Japanese or not. They are very strict on this point. Even in the few instances in which they are allowed there are stories of people getting out of the baths when someone with tattoos gets in. I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around me. I’m no Yakuza.

This could be avoided by going to an onsen with private baths. Which brought me to the second predicament- language. Very few people speak English and if they do it’s very basic. I couldn’t find a front desk staff who could help me with what I needed.

It was looking like I was going to have to let the dream go. Nooooo!!!!

My last day in Tokyo, to my surprise, the front desk came through for me. Finally, Yesss!!! Success!!! I had scouted out an onsen nearby and even though they didn’t have private bath options, they were more lenient with tattoos. If I bought some patches at the front desk I could cover them up and all would be well.

So I set off with my rain jacket in the midst of a downpour. Did I mention there was an earthquake and hurricane in my two weeks there? Eventful. The sign outside the onsen didn’t match what it was called on the web but I was ready for it since it seemed to be the trend. At this point nothing could stop me. I found it and walked in quite pleased with myself. As I approached the front desk everyone erupted into Japanese waving their hands. I knew I had made a mistake right away. In my excitement I hadn’t taken off my shoes. I was in the no shoe zone with my shoes still on. What an asshole. Someone ran out from behind the desk asked me to please take them off, like… now, ushering me out a complicated exit to the shoe lockers. I apologized, got rid of the offenders and re-approached the desk shyly.

They gave me two patches, one for each tattoo and she handed me an pink bracelet fob for lockers and such. The patches looked too small, but I assumed it to be a formality at this point. She had seen the size of the horse on my forearm so I followed her lead.

I was sent to the next station where a woman showed me four pictures- two of women and two of men- outfit options. This caught me off guard. What were the clothes for? I just pointed to one of the boy outfits- an Aladdin looking getup- thinking it looked cute, princely. I hadn’t really thought it through. Can you blame me? Who wouldn’t want to be Aladin given the chance? The women’s eyes went wide with alarm. She whisked the key fob from my wrist without hesitation and walked briskly to the previous desk. A hushed though vivid conversation erupting between the employees. After a minute she came back with a blue key fob. That was when it hit me. The key fob was for a locker. In the locker room. The last of the three challenges revealing itself. What the fuck was I thinking? I hadn’t even been in the building five minutes and already I had managed to cause a stir. 

Things looked bleak suddenly as I realized I would now be going to the men’s locker room. I could still make a run for it, just say I needed to go. But the Japanese are too polite and would not have let me go without an explanation, which due to language was a lost cause. Either way, that would’ve had me holding up the line even longer. So that wasn’t an option. I was screwed. It was too late to turn back now.

I braced myself, grabbed the blue key fob along with the bag containing my princely gear and walked into the spa. I have not yet tackled the men’s locker room conundrum. To be honest, I have not yet really tackled what it means for me specifically either. I still use the ladies bathroom. The thought of going into the mens feels quite frankly terrifying. Not that men would even care or are monsters but they are just much bigger than I am. And I don’t really pass at this point. And I’m already exposed to a good share of heat in ladies locker room. So generally when I go in I don’t fuck around. Not even at work, where my position protects me a bit. Generally, I just look down, b-line it to where I’m going and get the fuck out as soon as possible.

Now I’d like to state for the record that I don’t have a problem being naked or being in the locker room. I feel just fine with where I am in my evolution as a human. My fear comes from the possibility that I could make someone feel uncomfortable with my presence. I guess in the men’s room my fear would be getting called out. That’s never fun. And it happens in the women’s room already sometimes. People saying to me I shouldn’t be there. So now, I had put myself in this ridiculous situation in a foreign country of all places. Well, at least if I had to go into the men’s room now, Japan seemed like the right place for it since people are so reserved and respectful that I would never know what they think of me anyway. I figured at the very least I would be safe. Which made it seem not so bad.

Sweating profusely, and trying to keep my breath calm, I stepped into the men’s room. It was pretty empty to my relief. And big. So I just lifted my chest and waltzed right in. Nobody even glanced in my direction. I thought, this is perfect, the way out of this mess is to play the part. Just commit. I found a corner and changed stealthily. Then walked out in my little Aladdin outfit, with my towel around my neck.

I found the massage parlor, right next door where the male masseuse looked me up and down suspiciously, then gave me the sweetest massage I may have ever had. No nudity was required. His touch was very loving, and I was completely enamored with him by the time it was over.

The time had come. The baths were on the third floor. I took the elevator up. Now, I realize I’m going to sound like a nutbar when I say that I hadn’t considered yet that the baths might be separated by gender. I had seen pictures and they didn’t look very big. So I just assumed everyone bathed together. I thought they would give you a little swim suit or something like the baths I had visited in Italy with everyone soaking together. It isn’t so. It isn’t so…

I walked into the changing room and walked immediately out. Lots of naked men were in there. I knew I couldn’t go to the women’s side. My attire was blue, they’d crucify me. Everything was wrong and confusing at the same time. The towel guy had seen me walk in and out and by now had come out to tell me I was in the right place thinking I was lost. He walked me back in. There was no getting out of it now. I found a quiet corner looking around me in a bit of a panic. I noticed some of the guys holding a small towel over their junk. It seemed like a good idea in my case. I look like them, sort of, on top. Maybe I could pull it off. I stripped, grabbed a small towel and kind of held it there, took a deep breath, and walked into the bathing area.

By now it was clear I was going to be having a naked masculine evening. Yup, only dudes. And me. I was seeing all the naked dudes I hadn’t seen for the last twenty years. My eyes had to adjust. Japanese men seem pretty small framed for the most part but now I was aware that they are still much bigger than I am. I was also the only westerner. Yay me! Pioneering so many frontiers at the same time. I’m way ahead of my time. Clearly.

The place had pools of hot water, cold water and water at body temperature. There was a sauna and an area with a bunch of open shower stalls. Showering seemed like the first step in the process, so I turned on the shower and sat down. Yes, there was a seat so I sat. And just as I started enjoying my shower I was interrupted by the towel boy very distressed in Japanese pointing at my tattoos asking for my passport, which was at the hotel. He had me follow him back into the locker room and told me to put my clothes on. It seemed urgent so still wet, I did. Him standing right there. He took me downstairs to the front desk, my hair dripping everywhere, and started talking to the desk staff. If I hadn’t been mortified enough by everything that happened prior, this was enough to give me a fucking aneurysm. And yet there I stood. Sopping wet. Everyone staring at me. Occasionally hearing the word passport. Gay is still not legal in a lot of countries. So in my head I was wondering if it is illegal to be trans anywhere that I knew of. The gig was up. I guess I could end up in a Japanese jail.

After an eternity and much discussion, the only lady who spoke English approached me and asked for my passport again. I explained it was at the hotel. She then asked me to buy more cover ups for my tattoo. The ones I used hadn’t covered them all the way. I stared at her. Of course. Not a problem. Whatever you want, just get me the hell out of here. Then she added, it doesn’t have to be right now. Next time. Next time.

Next time? Are you kidding me? I’d been standing there completely soaked through all my clothes. And after all of that, after I had been completely embarrassed ten times over and almost had a panic attack, they just wanted to let me know for next time?

My nerves were shot. It had been one too many things. I considered grabbing my things and leaving but then I walked by the bath door and  thought, “fuck it, I’ve made it this far. I’m just going to do it.”

So I did. I went in there, stripped, grabbed my little towel,  and showered. I noticed a pool outside that was empty due to the rain. So I made my move. I walked boldly past everyone, opened the doors to the outside and stepped into the water. My smile must’ve been gigantic. I felt myself take the first full breath since entering the bathhouse. The stress and strain washing off of me as my body submerged. My happiness turning into ecstasy.

There’s nothing more delightful than a hot bath in the cold rain.

Happy fall yogis! I was reminded in Japan in so many ways, including this one that walking one’s unchartered path is fraught with many things that are beyond our control and can be adventurous, terrifying, funny… And yet it’s something we all must do even though it exposes our vulnerabilities making us very human indeed. Sometimes amazing things come from the crudest disasters. There can be much beauty in it.

Go vote today if you’re in NYC. It matters! You matter. Make your voice heard. We have a lot riding on this one regardless of where you stand. Our rights are in peril. If you aren’t registered to vote do it today for the upcoming November election. We need all hands on deck. No time to shuffle your feet. There’s no way to avoid voting, by the way. Even by not voting you vote. So get on that shit.

In the meantime, come practice with me or email me for some cranio-sacral therapy if you want to explore that. I can’t wait to see you. Let’s continue to grow and learn together. Write me. Tell me what you need and want to work on. Here are the upcoming offerings.

Big love!

Happenings:

Nuqui, Colombia
Feb 18-25

It’s happening again, the group is already looking lovely. If you know you want to come, don’t wait till the last minute to sign up.

Arm Balances
Yogaworks Brooklyn Heights, NY
Saturday Sept. 15 from 1:30-3:30

Arm balances have more to do with balance and alignment than strength. Much like any building or piece of architecture, if you stack the bones up properly and create a good foundation, the rest will follow.

Arm Balances
Yogaworks Back Bay, Boston
Saturday Sept. 22 11-1

Arm balances have more to do with balance and alignment than strength. Much like any building or piece of architecture, if you stack the bones up properly and create a good foundation, the rest will follow.

The Art of Hands On Assists
Yogaworks Back Bay, Boston
Saturday Sept. 22, 2-4

Touch is an art and can be very healing. Each person is unique and sparks a different conversation. In this workshop we will distill poses to educate our eyes to follow the lines of energy in the body and sharpen our instincts. Recruiting our creativity, sense of wonder and respect for each other will bring us deeper into the conversation of compassionate and clean touch. Thus unleashing the alchemy of healing for both parties.

Yoga And Mantra Unplugged
Yogaworks, Cambridge, MA
Sunday Sept. 23 12-2pm

This is hybrid between a led class and self-practice. Miles will lead the sequence in small doses, which you will then have a chance to practice on your own time with your own flare- making them slower or faster/ harder or easier/or finding different gems along the way. As you practice, Miles and Caroline will create a music soundscape for you to move with.