Saturday, August 2, 2008

Welcome to the Gym, may I take your coat?

After remembering the defibrillator at the Kaisha I thought I'd write a post about the other place in my life with a defibrillator: the Gym. The whole defibrillator flash-back came about because I once thought I might actually need to use it at the Gym, and let's face it, the people there are probably a bit more qualified to use one than my comrades at the Kaisha. If you've ever had the pleasure of reading David Sedaris you'll probably recognize the "Me Talk Pretty One Day" subtitle I stole from him. The only thing funnier than reading his essays is hearing him read them on CD which is what I have been doing some nights at the gym. I have since had to cease this activity as I recently started laughing so hard on the elliptical I 1) considered calling for the defibrillator and 2) freaked out the gym attendants who couldn't figure out why the sweaty whitie was staring at nothing and shaking with laughter. So now I stick to stuff like Dr. Dre's Chronic 2000 album which is very conducive to a work out, especially when I pretend I'm hard core and rap along in my head.

At the Gym you can rent just about everything. Socks, sneakers, shorts, bathrobes, towels, t-shirts, the works. I tried wearing their shorts but they were this horrible polyester fabric that made me look like a butch lesbian gym teacher. What I can't figure out is why there are foreign guys much bigger than me who can wear them and look fine, guess they don't have to contend with the bootay. Anyway, instead of going to the gym, I feel like I'm going to some lush spa when I enter the Gym. The reception people are soft-spoken concierges in beige suits who wish you well for your workout with an itterashaimase. It doesn't stop there however, as there are more attendants and trainers who walk around the Gym bowing to your sweaty ass and saying irrashaimase and otsukaresama desu when you finish your work out. I'm half surprised they don't come over with chilled designer water and personally wipe the sweat from my brow.

In terms of the actual equipment and facilities, it's pretty standard fare except for the disproportionate number of walking lanes in the pool. I mean come on, it's not a pool in a Florida retirement village, but for some reason the majority of the lanes are for walking. Last time I checked pools were primarily for swimming but I guess the stylish people of Tokyo prefer to walk through water. There is also a relaxation room lined with plush massage chairs. I've since learned how to use the different settings on them but my first time felt more like a torture chair and I actually yelled out in pain when these knobs came out of the chair to massage my shoulders and had me in a vice grip I couldn't get out of.

The staff can be a little too attentive at times. I've had no discrimination yet but I've heard several stories of foreigners being asked to not sweat so much, or to stop using equipment because they were over-perspiring. Don't these sweaters know this is a gym?! I guess it goes back to us being the hairy smelly barbarians but luckily the Gym is not so provincial. Although once I was dozing in a massage chair and one of the staff woke me up and make me get up so she could lay a towel over the leg part of the chair. All the chairs are covered in towels which I do understand but you think she could have waited, it wasn't my fault someone had taken off with the leg towel. I was showered and changed, that much was obvious, but still she had to remind me that I was a dirty dirt who shouldn't be sitting in a chair with no towels!

Enter the changing room. Pretty standard too until you look closer.

-There is a strange dichotomy when it comes to modesty here. There are some women that will not get changed unless they have a robe on and they have to struggle with the sleeves and the this and the that. Then there's the women who strut around with it all hanging out. I guess you would find that anywhere but tell me this, if you look at someone in profile, should you be able to see their pubic hair? Also, I am amazed at some Japanese women's nipples. Long! We are talking National Geographic style. What would the world do without variety?!

-There are signs telling women to cover it up and at least wear a towel at the beauty stations. This is the Gym's "manner-up" campaign according to the signs listing the ways you can make for a more polite, dignified Gym space. They make it sound like they're trying to clean up the bad part of town.

-Women are high maintenance. I've seen the inside of some of the lockers and women have their whole bathroom cabinet stored in there. We're talking hair curlers, big bottles of lotion, hairspray and a whole make-up kit. Now I understand if you're going out after the gym it would pay to look nice but at 11pm you are not going to tell me that every single woman in the changing room is going out somewhere. Despite that, they will wash their hair, dry and set it, and then put on a full face of make-up just to ride the train home. At least they're not putting make-up on on the train, thanks to the Metro's manner posters!

-Body shaping gear abounds. I've never seen women who need it so little wear so much body shaping underwear. I'm not sure what they are trying to hold in or shape but all those normal looking women you see on the street? They're all wearing body shaping camisoles or big black bike shorts that hold in their non-existent fat. I saw a woman a few weeks ago who was wearing a set of three pieces of body shaping gear that covered her from neck to ankle. This is not the season to wear stuff like that! I would faint!

The Gym is a great place but it's the little things that provide a constant reminder that you're not in Kansas any more. Do gyms in other countries have such levels of fastidiousness? I find it so strange that a country deemed so polite has institutions like the gym and the train, where people are constantly reminded of how to be courteous and not bother their fellow people. Is it because the gym is a newish concept here? For example, the only instructions I've seen at onsen are in foreign languages. Japanese people grow up knowing how to behave at onsen but do they need to be told how to behave at the gym? I ask you this, should people every where be reminded of stuff like this? Are the bad manners simply the sort of thing found in any country and Japan just happens to be combating them? Or do the bad manners come about from situations foreign in concept, which render Japanese people unable to refer to their regular social mores?


tokyo cowgirl said...

two things! first, have you read david sedaris's new book when you are engulfed in flames? i liked it more than the courdoroy and denim book and almost as much as me talk pretty one day. the best part is his whole long story about his moving to tokyo for three months to stop smoking... the whole narrative is hilariously on point.

next: i had been excited about my new gym membership that i haven't signed up for yet but now i'm not so sure. i thought i was going to be left alone to workout in peace, no stupid buff guys checking me out, and now i find out that i might not be left alone- i might actually get in trouble for sweating. if you know of a gym that is a little bit more sweat friendly please let me know!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

I should clarify, I only know guys who have been chastised for sweating and I think most gyms in the Tokyo area have a large foreign clientele and are therefore down with our ways. Work out and sweat in peace!!

Julie said...

I guess you would find that anywhere but tell me this, if you look at someone in profile, should you be able to see their pubic hair?

AAHHHHH!!! I love you!! My friend and I used to go to Tipness together in Tokyo and we were always talking about this. My students love my clear arm hair, too.