For part of the latter half of our Japan trip, we stayed in the neighborhood of Kamata (蒲田) within Tokyo. We chose the Urbain Hotel (アーバイン東京), whose small rooms were compensated by a reasonable price of about 12000 yen a night, or roughly $100. I don’t think Kamata is a particularly famous region, and there wasn’t any major tourist sites nearby that I know of. But there was a large shopping area within walking distance, plus many other restaurants and stores. The short distance to the train station was also convenient and allowed us to travel easily to some nearby areas like Akihabara.
After over a week of walking, my legs had gotten pretty tired and my wife suggested I try out a massage from a shiatsu massage place nearby the hotel, titled “蒲田マッサージ指圧院”. It was on the first floor of a building complex and the small room, packed densely with beds and simple curtain dividers, somehow reminded me a hospital in a third-world country.
Payment was done via a machine at the entrance which takes 1000 Yen bills and returns a ticket. If I remember correctly it was around 3000 Yen total, roughly $25 dollars. I put my shoes in a box by the door and was led to one of the beds by a older woman who appeared to be in her 60s, far older than anyone I had seen in a massage place in America. There was something unique about this woman’s eyes which were an aquamarine/bluish color, very rare for a Japanese person. She closed the curtain around my bed and I quickly changed, after which I called her over to begin the session.
She asked something along the lines of “どこが痛いんですか？” (What hurts?) to which I responded that my calves felt tight (“ふくらはぎがすごく硬い感じです”). There was a few more words exchanged but she started shortly after, working her hands into my back muscles at first very lightly, and then gradually with more pressure in waves. Though I had asked her to focus on my legs she still did much of the rest of my body, including shoulders, neck, and belly, which I appreciated greatly. Also I remember she did a special thing to my fingers which somehow made them pop with a small pull. By around 30 minutes (the total session was 45 minutes), I started feeling so comfortable and had to force myself to stay awake, since I felt it would be awkward to fall asleep midway through.
I wish I would have written down in more detail exactly what techniques she used, but I remember thinking that it was very different than any massages I’d had in the US. There was a few times it “hurt good” but nothing where I had to interrupt her to back off the pressure. (Note: I have seen several places titled “shiatsu” in the US but haven’t tried any yet)
All in all it was a great massage, and most importantly my leg muscles had loosened up significantly. When I asked her how long she had been doing this job (この仕事は何年くらいやってるんですか？) the answer caught me a little by surprise: over 40 years.
A few days later I tried a different style of place, this one considered more of a chiropractor (整体). It was also near the hotel, on the second floor of another tall building. The nicely decorated, professional-looking reception area was very welcoming, and we paid with credit card. I forgot the exact price but think it was a little more expensive than the first place.
I was led off into another room deeper into the building, this one a bit more spacious than the first massage place. After changing I had a conversation about the condition of my legs with a man who appeared to be in his 30s who would be taking care of me. His massage was a little more similar to what I’d experienced in America, with various techniques such as pounding and rubbing. I remember one of the places on my feet he gave pressure to hurt pretty bad, and he said that might be related to a heart problem, though I don’t have any known heart issues.
The massage was so-so, and didn’t feel me leaving nearly as relaxed as the first one, but I still had an enjoyable time. Another difference was that this man was more talkative, and we talked about a few light subjects while he worked on my body. Since my wife wasn’t with me at the time, it was a good experience to have a 1-on-1 conversation in Japanese with a Native without any backup. Though I had some difficulty getting my point across a few times, overall I was able to communicate enough to keep the conversation going.
A few days later when we discovered another massage place in the Yodobashi Camera building in Akihabara (which I wrote about previously), I decided on trying that one out. It was even more expensive, but the interior was significantly more oshare (お洒落、fashionable / stylish) than the other places, and each little mini booth was fully blocked off from the others for total privacy. The robe I was made to change in to where Thai-style, where you tie the belt around your waist, and they sold similar outfits there well.
Here I asked for a ~45 minute foot massage, because the shorter one didn’t include the calf, only the bottom of the foot. It started out with a foot bath in warm salt water, during which the masseuse (a girl probably in her late 20s to early 30s) massaged my feet lighty. After a few minutes of that she dried my feet and then gently wrapped them in some cloth.
She proceeded to work on one leg at a time, beginning with the foot and slowly massaged one muscle group at a time in a very systematic way. There was little heavy pushing or pounding, mostly just sliding over the surface of my skin with moderate pressure.
During the massage I sat in something like a reclining chair with a pillow placed behind my back. For some reason I wasn’t able to get comfortable, even after readjusting several times during the session. The other massages I got were all on a flat table (with a hole place to put your head) and these allowed me to relax to a greater extent.
The service was quite good, with the masseuse very polite and asking several questions during the process, like “Would you like an eye mask?”, “Do you want a warm cloth or a neutral-temperature one?”. I had a little conversation with her, but less than the second massage guy. When the treatment was done, she treated me to a cup of tea which was a nice final touch.
Overall, it was a comfortable and interesting experience, but not nearly as relaxing or effective as the first older woman. I guess nothing beats 40 years of experience (:
Featured Image: A cute little Totoro display that we found in the lobby of the hotel in Kamata.