You can’t take smartphones in the bath. Well, can you? I suspect someone somewhere has already invented a waterproof smartphone, to solve a problem that didn’t exist, just as we’ll soon have watches that will predict the exact moment of our death.
Until such a time, then, we have bathing. Immersed in hot water, with absolutely no opportunity to check if someone has liked something you’ve digitally done, the past and future melt away, and time loses itself, just for a bit.
Assorted cultures have their own proud bathing traditions, but I’m particularly fond of Japanese onsen. For a volcanically active country, with the grumblings of the earth a permanent reminder of the impermanence of things, it makes sense that the favoured holiday pastime is to sit and contemplate in waters warmed by geothermal springs.
I’m writing this from Hakone, the Godfather of all Japanese onsen resorts, where Tokyo and Yokohama types get away from the chaos of the city for the slightly gentler chaos of the touristy mountains. The Japanese like their nature to be tidy and prefer their beauty spots to come with a handy restaurant and gift shop, but there’s nothing unusual about that. Jerome K Jerome was gently mocking the Germans for similar behaviour a hundred years ago in Three Men on the Bummel.
Away from the cable cars and ersatz pirate ships with views of Mount Fuji, there are onsen galore. Our hotel has both the indoor and outdoor type. It’s still late winter here, or possibly very early spring, and we braved the outdoor bath late last night, in windy conditions. Past visitors to Skegness will know what I mean when I say it was very bracing.
Early this morning I returned to the male-only outdoor onsen. I got there just as the sun was rising over the hill facing us. The wind had dropped, and the virgin sunlight danced on the waters. I had a moment of genuine calm, not worrying, as I often am, about the past or the future.
And then I thought: I’ll blog about this later.