Okay. It’s been almost a week now, and my foot is not improving. In fact, it’s doing just the opposite of improving. This is unsettling, because bruises, in my experience, do not get worse over time, they get better – usually accompanied by colorful special effects and lots of changes in the shape and size of the afflicted body part, which makes them great for surprising girls in the lunchline with. (Or am I thinking of elementary school? No matter. Everything important that I know, I learned in kindergarten; the rest is just execution.) This injury is not discolored, though, and is hardly swollen at all. It seems to be putting all of its available resources into just one thing: hurting. If my foot were only a little less necessary to the rest of my adult life, I’d be thinking very hard about shotgunning a gallon of sake and getting busy with a tourniquet and that bread knife downstairs in the kitchen sink. As it is, I’ll probably drag myself to the doctor’s office tomorrow. And me without health insurance in Japan. This should be interesting.
I’ve been limping around like a guy with a broken foot all day, which isn’t really ironic or anything, since I may in fact be a guy with a broken foot. We’ll see tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ve been doing my best to dull the constant pain by soaking my foot in hot water – at 4 am this morning, for example. Since I don’t have a foot-sized bucket handy in the house, this means drawing a bath. I should mention here that in Japan, “bath” has an entirely different meaning from the one Americans – or even those few Europeans familiar with the expression – know. In Japan, a bath is a body of hot water in which you submerge yourself once you’re already clean. If you’re in a bath in Japan, the hard part is already behind you. You’ve already scrubbed and shaved and shampooed and all the rest, and your only reason for being where you are at that moment is to relax and shed your concerns and let your mind empty out – except that this can be challenging because of the excruciatingly hot water you’re sitting in, which tends to focus your thoughts very narrowly upon it and nothing but it. To the point where you hardly notice the fact that you’re surrounded by throngs of completely naked Japanese men doing the same thing.
I’m speaking here of the Japanese onsen, of course. Technically, an onsen is a natural hot spring spa, which Japan has roughly as many of as the South has boiled peanut stands. After all, the whole country’s basically just a long string of volcanoes that happen to be poking out of the water. But the Japanese love the idea of the onsen so much that they’ve built fake ones all over the place. In America, we’d call them “hot tubs,” but that’s not really what an onsen is. First of all, each tub is the size of a four-car garage, and it’s surrounded by individual scrub stations, with removable shower heads, soap, etc., where you sit on a little bucket and get yourself clean before stepping into the onsen. Secondly – did I mention already? – the room’s heaving with naked Japanese guys. Usually the ladies have a separate (but equal) onsen on the other side of the facility, though I’m told that in many of the smaller old resort towns in the mountainous regions, that’s a distinction that residents feel is more trouble than it’s worth.
An earlier soak in the downstairs tub tonight was helpful, but hardly a cure-all. To take my mind off the stubborn residuum of pain, therefore, I’ve downloaded Radiohead’s new album, In Rainbows. (I ponied up $7 for it, so go roll your eyes at someone else.) Looking forward to sublimating myself and all thoughts of my left foot to ten tracks of semi-surrealist bliss, I cue up the first track, “15 Steps”:
“You used to be alright
Facts for whatever
Then a sheer drop.”