I am writing this from the New Koyo, the cheapest hotel in Tokyo. (That is actually how it advertises itself.) It is an excellent deal, though the rooms are only large enough for a futon, a TV, a closet, and a suitcase. Bobby, the proprietor, is a very cool, friendly, funny guy who speaks perfect English and knows Tokyo the way only a man who has run a Tokyo backpackers' hotel for many years can know it. Today he has referred me to Fabric Street in Nippori, where I hope to find some inexpensive haori (beautiful kimono jackets, excellent for wear over pants on elegant occasions) to resell in the US and so help finance my trip. I have transferred trains at the Nippori station probably hundreds of times, but never actually got out there and poked around. Apparently it is the go-to place for cloth and inexpensive clothing in Tokyo.

I was disappointed, however, to learn that the New Koyo's hot tub has been closed down, possibly for reasons I don't want to know. In Kyoto six of the women, one of the men, and I went to an onsen (a public bath with a natural hot spring), Tenzan No Yu, which I think translates as something like Hot Water From The Mountain of Heaven. It was indeed a heavenly experience. It was a gray, cold, rainy day, and it was wonderful to spend hours immersed in hot water, in an indoor-outdoor area, in a communal women's space. (There's a men's section too, which I believe was identical.) There was a "gold bath" with no doubt healthy natural salt water tinted orange, and a blue-lit cold bath for post-sauna, a jacuzzi, many other giant hot baths with various mineral properties and heat levels, and an open lounge area where you could lie on benches or on flat slabs with warm water flowing down, letting the rain fall on your naked but very warm body. It was a very sensual, cozy experience.

It was definitely a neighborhood joint, filled with mostly forty-plus women, many of whom clearly knew each other. (As I said to another student later, "Hanging out with fifty naked women over the age of fifty - that's what I call a good time.") We got a couple double-takes from the clientele - I don't think tourists show up there often. (It was a recommendation from Taka.)

But once I wandered off from the group, I was befriended and shown around by a nice old lady who spoke no English, but with whom I managed to have a conversation on subjects mostly concerning heat, cold, and things found in public baths. She escorted me to the sauna, which was divided into two rooms. One was a steam room with a barrel of salt in the middle. You rub it all over your body, leaving your skin silky-smooth, then rinse off. The other was an oh my God-hot sauna, in which young women (dressed) poured water over hot rocks, then fanned us with giant red fans. There was a huge flat screen TV showing a cooking show. I had to leave when I began to feel like the steamed shrimp. The noodle dish I ordered soon after at the onsen restaurant turned out to be cold noodles, not hot as I'd expected, but that was probably just as well.

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