Hawaii Travelogue: A Japan away from Japan [Ch.7: Japanese Massage]

By | July 5, 2017

This article is a part of series of articles about my 2017 trip to Hawaii. Please see the table of contents that contains links to other chapters.

Japanese Massage

My day job keeps me in front of a desk most of the time so I’m not exactly accustomed to the kind of walking required when travelling, especially without a car (we did rent one for one day, but I’ll save that story for another chapter). Besides taking frequent breaks, one thing I tried on our last trip to Japan was experimenting with massages to see if it helped my legs.

On our Hawaii trip, my wife and I decided to get massages at a massage parlor in Waikiki. The place advertised in at least four different languages (Japanese, English, Korean, and some variant of Chinese), but seemed to be primarily Japanese judging from the sizes of the Japanese font, and the fact a Japanese-looking woman greeted us in fluent Japanese in tiny reception room.

There was a few different options: lomi lomi (Hawaiian style with oil), face massage, shiatsu (指圧、Japanese pressure points), and one or two others I don’t recall. We both chose a combination which involved all these styles in a 1 hour period.

After getting partially undressed and under several layers of covers as the receptionist requested, two masseuses entered and began the session. Near the beginning I was asked “一番凝ってるところはどこ?” (Where do you feel the most stiff?) upon which I responded “ふくらはぎです” (My calves).

The massage itself was actually pretty unimpressive, frequently either too soft or too hard. But I can partially take the blame for that, since I guess I am picky about massages. Even in Japan I remember only really appreciating one out of the three places I went to. Having said that, the woman attending to me didn’t really spend too much time on my problem area, my legs; I had even indicated with my hand where was tight just to make sure there was no communication issue.

It was also borderline uncomfortably hot, but I guess that is one of those things that is better to err on the hot side of for the sake of muscle relaxation. I could have probably removed one of the layers of covers to help cool down, but was a little hesitant to move around too much during the session.

The background music was barely audible, as if a few rooms away, and was a strange mix of music that didn’t really fit the mood. In the last few minutes, music began from a second location, this time apparently coming from some device in our own small room. Although the genre was more appropriate with peaceful, light music, I found myself drawn to focus on the other music that was still playing.

Ironically, the only really memorable thing about the massage was related to language. Both of the women looked Asian from what I saw in the dimly-lit room, and the woman working with my wife was somewhat talkative. Judging from her speech and the content of the conversation, she was clearly native Japanese. However, the woman attending to me was much less talkative, and while I did understand the few things she said, I thought I detected a hint of strange intonation or pronunciation. Also, she didn’t seem to respond in much detail to things I said in Japanese. For the first half of the session, I thought maybe it was just my imagination and shrugged it off.

However, later on when the topic shifted to the Chinese language, she said “中国語は難しくないよ” (Chinese language isn’t hard!) followed by something about its pronunciation. In a flash, the combination of what she said plus how she said it made me fairly certain she was not Japanese. At that time, I had the odd sensation that a chameleon had suddenly shifted its colors to show its true self.

Besides her pronunciation, which was starting to sound more and more to me like Chinese, I felt it was very unnatural for her to be speaking with tameguchi, or non-polite language used by those of the same social group and seniority. In proper Japanese, those in service industries generally use at least the desu/masu form, so she should have said at least something like “中国語は難しくないですよ”.  By the end of the hour, when she said the usual “どうもありがとうございます” (thank you very much) I could detect a thick accent.

One other minor point to note is that this is one of the few places where they gave a good discount for paying in cash. After some trial and error and eventually calling our bank, we discovered that Wells Fargo only allows withdrawing cash from machines that mention “Cirrus”. Surprisingly, there isn’t a single Wells Fargo bank on the Hawaiian Islands.

(Next chapter)

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