Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Let's work out!

The gym here in Japan is truly an experience. It's so service-oriented that you show up, receive your rented head-to-toe work out gear from the nice ladies in cream suits at the reception desk, and pad down a sweet-smelling hallway with gentle irrashaimases at your back. It does start to get a little over the top however, when there are at least four staff in the gym who are constantly saying hello or otsukaresama depending on whether you are about to start sweating like a crazy gaijin or you are a sweat-drenched gaijin retreating to the locker room. And if that wasn't enough, the staff walk through the machine area distributing little bows and konnichiwas at each and every machine that is in use. I hardly know what to do any more! I'm pumping away on the machines and I have a split second to decide whether to ignore the person bowing to me from below or to nod and smile back through the sweat, or go further and say hello with the risk of shouting it because I have Talib Kweli blasting on my iPod.

I have written about the Gym before, indeed I have, but I find myself once again utterly captivated by everything that goes on there.

My Gym here is very strict with lots of rules. No shoes in the locker room, you must be covered appropriately in the powder room, no magazines on the treadmill but OK on the elliptical or the bike, the list goes on. According to some freshly-printed signs yesterday, we are not allowed to even send e-mails on our cell phones from the locker room now due to them all having cameras and there being personal information and privacy concerns. First of all, if you've ever tried to surreptitiously take a photo with your phone in Japan, you will have discovered a very loud shutter sound that cannot be turned down or off (anti-perv measures). Second, this gym costs around 20,000 yen a month (thank you Kaisha!), which keeps out the riff raff and probably women who want to take photos of other women in the locker room with their phones and profit from them. Kakushidori or voyeuristic photos and movies definitely have a market niche here but really, how concerned are we going to get about being violated in the locker room by a hidden camera?

One of the unwritten rules is waking up people in the massage chairs for no good reason at all as I have found. The staff ensure there are always big towels covering the massage chairs but sometimes people take them away for whatever reason and they are left naked and exposed. I made the fatal mistake of sitting in one of these chairs one day and just as I was slipping into a sweet sweet doze, one of the staff bitches wakes me up and insists that I stand up so she can drape the leg-clampers with a towel. It goes without saying that I have her the Shit Eye. I was showered, clean and socked-could she not have let me sleep?!

As of late, I have seen women putting bows in their hair before working out, and then there are those who refuse to tie up their long hair, letting it swing around and hang into their eyes while they pump iron. Am I the only one who likes my hair off my face when I work out? I feel like an unwelcome flashback to a Jane Fonda video with my headband pushing my hair out of my face, what can I say? all my style goes out the window at the Gym. I have also noticed a very sprite and aged gym bunny, who likes to shower in her socks. Then there is the music played in the changing rooms, sometimes a strummy guitar version of Arrested Development's November and once recently, the instrumental version of a song from Fiddler on the Roof. All this while I am trying to figure out which body lotion to use where, as the sign tells me to "use the amenities provided only for the correct parts"...um, which parts would those be? I am dying to ask. The Japanese is less helpful, as it simply tells you to put the lotion back where you found it.

Does anybody here use the hairdryer at the gym for any place other than your head? There it is, on a recently amended sign, a few terse black letters telling us to only use the hairdryer on our heads. Was this a countermeasure to the hoards of women using the dryers to fluff up their nether-forests? Or was in it answer to the many women "air-drying" themselves instead of using towels, and thus violating the Cover-up Rule? As I asked in my other post, is all this instruction and cautioning simply because the Japanese like to "over-instruct" (ever listened to the train announcements or been led up stairs at a restaurant?) or because management doesn't think Japanese (or gaijin for that matter) know how to use a gym conscientious of those around them? Where do we go from here? Really, I wouldn't be surprised if there were new signs up next week instructing us on how to use the Q-tips on our correct parts, beating those gym-goers who like to use them to Q-tip their rectums to the punch.

I can see the Gym getting stricter and eventually turning into an actual police state. There are already warnings and shoulder taps going on, I haven't yet discovered if there are hidden cameras or if people are ratting out their comrades. I must admit my way of thinking has changed a bit, and I find myself giggling like a schoolgirl on the inside when I see someone reprimanded. Just last week there was a woman sitting at a beauty station buck naked AND talking on her cellphone. Snap! That's 2 counts, and the practically nonexistent amount of time it took for one of the Beige Suits to come and tell her off was seriously impressive.

I actively seek Gym code violations now. I'll be sitting in the sauna and start clucking my tongue when I see a woman lay down or wagging my finger when a woman stands completely naked at a beauty station, rubbing the body lotion over every! part! It's really too much at times.

Yesterday I was standing half-naked at my locker when I was assaulted by the cleaning lady. I always bow and smile at her and when I threw a Good Evening her way she started trying to practice her Gym English on me. We started chatting in Japanese about her efforts to study English and memorize all the warning signs posted around the room in English, and just when I thought she was about to push-off, she started practicing her lines on me! Sweet lady, but come on, I'm half naked, struggling with my hose and she wants to parrot "Please do not take any glass items into the shower room" at me! I can't win, someone is either dying to talk to me, or taking pains to avoid me, like the biatchy Secretaries I sometimes see flailing on the treadmills who smirk at each other when they walk past me. Such are my joys of working out in Tokyo.


kathrynoh said...

I wish there were more people policing gyms here in Australia. You'd think it'd be unnecessary but no. One time I saw a girl dyeing her hair in the change rooms - I ratted her out for that. The no phone in the change room rule is in force in every gym I've been to here though.

Ha, your description of the bowing attendants reminds me of going to the gym at a hotel in Bali. The attendants constantly kept running over, handing us fresh sweat towel.

To make it worse, my friend had put on fake tan before our holiday so was sweating orange! She had to keep scrunching the towels up to hide the orange stains before handing them back. I don't even know how she managed to workout enough to sweat while having to deal with the towel situation.

Kira Petersson-Martin said...

So, I've read somewhere that the Japanese sweat much less than us gaijin folk, and so there's a huge stigma about the smelliness of white people. Now, i know I've gotten myself into trouble before by taking something I'd read somewhere and applying it willy-nilly to other things, but have you found this to be an issue? Do Japanese women even sweat at the gym?

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

kathrynoh: Dyeing her hair?! That's got to rank right up there with pretty crazy. I don't know what my gym would do if something like that happened, spontaneously combust perhaps?

Kira: I think there has been stigma around our smell beginning with Commodore Perry and his black ships of smelly men who emanated the smell of butter. I was trolling Mixi once (Japanese networking site) and found this thread on a message board for women with foreign partners that concerned the body odour of said partners. It was pretty funny, some said their man didn't smell, some did and they didn't know what to do, and even fewer did but they liked the smell.

Japanese women do sweat at the gym, although it doesn't seem to be quite in proportion to say, me, who sweats litres. I think that goes for the guys too. I think BO is much less of a thing here though, I don't know if it's due to diet or just some crazy DNA. Fun fact: the beau doesn't smell even after sweating or working out, it's really weird.

trannywidpussy said...

hmmmmmm, SOME Japanese people stink too.

David said...

Darn me. I seem to notice a lot of smelly people in Japan, but then I live in a different Japan than, I suppose. Sorta figure those with proper hygiene don't usually smell, but did not figure that it was related to one's ethnic group.

Japanese people do have dry earwax though, compared to the wet earwax of foreigners. I read that somewhere. I read it at night since I, like all foreigners with blues eyes, can see in the dark like a cat.

Sarah said...

Some Japanese people DEFINITELY smell. Especially older men... and it isn't always a straight hygiene issue it seems - a mixture of cigarettes, alcohol, and just general old man stink... But then there are those that don't appear to sweat at all, and if they do don't smell any worse for it!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

David: Point taken, I think, although you may notice that I said "I think" there is less of a BO/smell problem in Japan than elsewhere, indicating my own opinion and not a gross generalization.

Sarah: Yes, the oyaji smell! I think old men smell everywhere.

When I say no smell, I'm talking about someone who is clean and then sweats. I wasn't taking any outside smells into account and I think it can be said that Japanese people's bodies are built differently in some ways. Much of it is hygiene, but bottom line, I feel much more unease sitting close to someone on public transportation in Canada than I ever do here.

Sarah said...

You're right that your nose is probably safer from bad BO on Japanese public transport. But on the other hand (and on a completely different topic) your shoulder is much less likely to be come a pillow for your snoozing neighbour in Canada!

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

True Sarah, which is why I have been sharpening my elbows!

Sarah said...

Carrying knitting needles does have its advantages...! (not that I'd ever use them for anything but knitting, but they do look rather sharp and pointy!)