Welcome to Japan – land of karaoke, onsens and a kami called Koyane.
I’d best start with introductions, so first up is Koyane.
Ame No Koyane No Mikoto, or Koyane for short, is one of the kami or deities of the Shinto religion in Japan. He’s one of the four kamis of the Kasuga shrine in Nara and he may have human descendants.
He is responsible for ensuring the safety of the emperor of Japan and his family line.
The first emperors lived in Nara, but in the present day, Japan’s rulers have a palace in Tokyo.
Koyane…in the present day, he’s a character in my Mel Goes to Hell series, where he divides his time between his estate in the Kansai region, or his house in Tokyo.
And Japanese houses have some advantages over Western ones that take some getting used to for a visitor who’s never been there before!
At Home in Japan
I’ll start with the place you spend the most time – the bedroom. Where everyone sleeps on the floor.
Oh, yes – whether it’s Tokyo, Kyoto or a tiny village in the Nagano prefecture, Japanese bedrooms have tatami matting and futon beds flush on the floor.
Better than a kingsized bed – I mean, you have the beds…and the floor…and…well, I’m sure you get my drift.
Bathrooms are fun, but incredibly compact. The washbasin and mirror are in a completely different room to the bath and shower, and the best baths are the traditional cedar tubs. Of course, these are only big enough for one and the rooms are claustrophobic at best, so if you’re after a bigger bathroom, luckily, they do exist. And they’re my favourite bit of a trip to Japan.
Some experiences are so good you have to share them and I have – frequently.
First, you strip naked and lock up all your clothes. Then you slather yourself in soap and wash until you’re squeaky clean. Then, you’re free to share the pleasure of the steamy atmosphere with a group of equally naked strangers.
I’m referring to the Japanese customs and etiquette in an onsen.An onsen is a sort of hot spring spa. They can be indoors or outside, sex-segregated or mixed, filled with water from a hot water system or (my personal favourite) natural, volcanic hot springs. It’s a kind of communal bathtub that is very much a part of the culture in Japan.
Not being Japanese, I find that the locals always stare at me the first time I enter an onsen. They watch me like hawks to make sure I know the correct procedure – and they’re very helpful if you seem uncertain. After all, they don’t want to share their bath with an unwashed Westerner, either.
When I stayed at Nozawa Onsen, a small town in Nagano Prefecture that’s known for its skiing, onsens and apples (bigger than any other apple you’ve seen and they make amazing wine, too), every tourist brochure included a picture of naked men that became familiar all too quickly. In an onsen town, you must behave like their naked…sorry, NACKED men…or face the legal consequences.
Demons on Holiday
If you’re wondering why I’ve included a description of Japanese bathing customs, when most of my books are set in Australia, then you probably haven’t read See You in Hell yet – or To Hell and Back, the fourth book in the series, which is set partially in Japan. How about a taste of Hell?
Without giving too much away, demons aren’t accustomed to getting time off work to travel…so on Mephistopheles’ first holiday ever, Mel suggests that the demon should take her skiing-obsessed partner to Japan. Nozawa Onsen, to be precise.
Care for a taste of what demons get up to while they’re on holidays?
“Mel! Oh, you won’t believe how wonderful it was! Bob and I…we…were arrested by the Japanese police.” Mephi blushed, looking absurdly proud.
Mel wasn’t sure whether to laugh, smile or look concerned. “I’m happy to hear you enjoyed your holiday. I hope it was all a misunderstanding,” she said carefully.
Mephi giggled, sounding eerily like Persi instead of her usual efficient self. “Public nudity, disturbing the peace…property damage…inciting public violence…rioting…misuse of public property…oh, it was incredible. Bob and I spent half the night naked on the futons, but we got too hot and decided to try a romp in the snow. My knees went numb, so I insisted we visit the hot springs, but the indoor ones wouldn’t let us in together, because they keep men and women separate – can you imagine? So we found some up the hill that were outdoors and not segregated…”
Mel coughed. “Up the hill…you mean the cooking hot springs? The ones that are too hot for humans, with all the warning signs?”
“Humans, maybe, but they were just a warm bath to us demons, dear. And we steamed them up a fair bit more before we were done. So we had another roll in the snow…and fell through someone’s basement window. We climbed out, had another wash in the hot springs – just to disinfect, of course, the cuts from the broken glass, but one thing led to another and…by that time some of the townspeople were up and they were very rude, so Bob broke off a length of the chain fence and used it to protect me…” Mephi’s eyes misted over at the memory.
“Wow. Sounds like an exciting holiday,” Mel managed to say. She didn’t think she’d ever understand demons.
Still wondering what the Hell I’m on about? You can check out the Mel Goes to Hell series HERE.