I went to the sento nearby again the other day, I try to do it regularly. When I arrived, there was a mother with a small boy, maybe four years old, in the changing room. Usually, kids don’t bother me in the sento or onsen – Japanese children are very well behaved, and their mothers know how to keep them content, if the hot bath does not. However, this poor boy, half dressed, was screaming on top of his lungs, clearly unhappy about something; and just imagining this inside, in the fully tiled, cave-like bathroom, made me see my relaxing bathing gone, and made me hope “Please let them be leaving already!”.
Quickly I stripped, put my clothes into a basket and went inside the bathroom. The elderly lady next to me hardly noticed me, and I started scrubbing. (I have written about onsen etiquette elsewhere already.) Halfway through, the mother I had seen outside came in with her boy (literally) in tow, who, unfortunately, was still screaming. His tone had changed to terrified, and he was repeating a single word over and over again (which I could not make out though), but his mother, seemingly unperturbed, tried to get him cleaned anyway. This went on for a few minutes, with the boy trying to escape outside ever so often, still repeating this one word, but his mother was always faster.
It is not considered polite in Japan to complain or voice one’s discomfort about anything (unless obviously drunk), so I was very surprised when the lady next to me finally went up to the mother of the screaming boy. I would be very curious as to what she said, in any case it did the trick and when the two left the sento, peace, and quiet water splashings were restored.
Looking back, however, I do wonder what the boy was so terrified of – the hot water, the shower, all the strangers? I remember when I was small, I loved bathing – but hated having my hair washed. The water pouring over my head always terrified me, I felt like I was suffocating, so I had to be dragged there kicking and screaming. Until this day, I don’t like swimming with my head under water. (Well, I can’t swim very well anyway, let’s rather call it “struggling to keep afloat”.) Maybe the boy had had similar fears? Do all children have at some point? Pity I can’t ask him anymore.