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The Nihon “Ofuro”

by Dell Nakayama Uchida, For the North American Post

Papa used to take us to the “ofuro” (Japanese bath)- there were about four in Seattle. Shimoji and Hinode were a couple. After we moved to town and East Fir Street, we went mostly to the Hashidate, located under the old NP Hotel.

We went down the stairs, into the office lobby. We paid and they gave us a towel. If I begged enough, Papa would give my brother and me a nickel to play the pinball machine.

On the left of the bath house was the men’s side and on the right was the women’s side. When I was eight, my mother became sick and went back to Japan. When I was ten, my mother died and my father began taking me to the men’s side.

The men’s side was never crowded. I didn’t think anything about it because no one made an issue about a nude body (but soon I graduated to the women’s side).

We changed in one room with a nice big rug. Then we went into the other room with a wooden floor where we scrubbed ourselves with a cloth on the back and a “loofah- ” like sponge on the front.

We scooped water from the large tub with a bucket to rinse ourselves. We never had to bring anything since they supplied everything.

After we were clean, we climbed into the big tub. It was about the size of a double hot tub. We soaked for about 15 to 30 minutes.

The place was very clean. The water was so hot that I don’t think any germs could exist. They had a fan running where we dressed. It was rather chilly, but it kept the steam down.

Many older boys, belonging to an athletic team, came to the bathhouse after a game. All of a sudden, I could hear all the noise the team members made. There was a wall separating the men and women,  but you could hear everything. Perhaps the hot baths were better than a shower to help the boys relax their muscles.

I just took it for granted in those days. When we had the shop on James Street, we didn’t have a tub, so we used to go to the  Nihon ofuro  at least once a week, usually on Sundays. After the bath, we sometimes went to the Chambara (samurai) movies at the old Atlas Theater.

The theater showed cartoons, two main features and previews of coming attractions. We loved the movies and the weekly baths.

Dell Nakayama Uchida was one of the four original Nikkei that formed a writing group in 1992. The common interest in recording their memories and history started at Dee Miyamoto Goto’s class sponsored by the Nikkei Horizons. The other participants were Margaret Baba Yasuda, Chuck Kato, Uchida (Jack) and Goto (Sam). Their stories were published in “Omoide Revisite-Volumes 1,2,3” available at JCCCW. The Omoide (Memories) program continues today.