Cleaning Onsen in Japan: Not only about earning (Part 1)
To me, "transforming to an Onsen cleaner" is also the key to approach and discover the hidden charms and quintessence of Japanese Onsen culture.
When we have a conversation about "Baito" or "part-time-job" in Japan, an idea of being a Cashier in Family Mart (combini) or a waiter in an eatery or even a kitchen staff, dishwasher in the casual restaurant may naturally come to their minds immediately. Maybe that's why my part time job sounds way too different from most of my classmates. And it is not only about earning money!
First of all, I want to give you a very rough idea of Onsen. "Onsen" (温泉) known as "hot spring" is the heated groundwater carrying various types of mineral pumped up to the ground by the human. Then the thermal flow is directed into baths for the purposes of bathing, relaxation and treatment.
More than the local specialty, Onsen is also the great pride to all Beppu citizens. That's why Beppu is much well-known as the Capital Onsen in Japan. I believe the cleaning job is the key to discover hidden charms in my current place of residence: my beloved Beppu.
Predestined to work in the Onsen
Last spring I came to Umezono Onsen (梅園温泉 roughly translated as Plum Garden Onsen) by chance when I took part in filming for a video to promote Beppu city. One Vietnamese senpai introduced this job to me because he saw I showed a particular interest in Onsen. From then till now I've stayed with this job at Umezono Onsen for some reasons I cannot even explain.
I often go to the Onsen for cleaning about 3 - 4 mornings, approximately 8 - 9 hours per week. Try best to get up very early in the morning, ride my bike to the workplace regardless of the severe days in winter or rainy seasons are distinctive of this "Baito". At first I was unable to adapt myself to the job so I cannot help but thinking it was such a hard work! Gradually I realize it's not a big deal anymore when I got used to it.
Moreover it also helps me to reduce the financial burden by covering the cost of living without working too many hours. My hourly wage is only about ¥1000 (approximately to $9.8). If I make a very simple comparison in the amount of what I get paid, it is lower to the wage of my second baito but this cleaning job really brings me great joy and happiness like no other.
Transforming to the Onsen cleaner
From the first working days, I had a feeling that I closely resembled a girl named Chihiro in "Spirited Away" - the famous anime in Japan. In the movie, she also washed the floor and clean up every corner in an age-old Onsen like I did. But if Chihiro had to hunker down on the floor while scrubbing the giant baths with the limited help of manual cleaning tools as scrub brush or floor mop, in the real life the high pressure water jet is my right-hand man!
Compared to the old days, cleaning the Onsen baths and shower area now require less efforts and time. I only need to connect water supply hose to the water tap, turn on the tap and then connect the machine to power sockets within 30 seconds. High pressure water blasting from the the gun removes iron residues (Fe - a type of mineral found in Onsen), dirts or detergent easily. In Umezono Onsen, I usually clean up 2 medium sized indoor baths and 1 small sized outdoor foot bath.
Thanks to the machine, the work is less labour intensive so sometimes it makes me wonder that whether how I am doing my job is indeed less tough than the way Chihiro actually did!
But, there are certain risks too!
As the incessant and loud clanking sound of the high pressure machine get to my ears in the morning is not comfortable at all. Accidentally, I got hit by the water blasting from the gun and it bruised my feet terribly but that's not all! Sometimes there was a rip or leak in the water hose and not surprisingly, the water splashed everywhere. Then I and uncle Karatsuyama - the owner of the Ramen shop nearby - took a lot of time to repair it .
In those time, the only thing I extremely worried was if we had been late for the opening time and everything was still a mess, I would have felt very bad and upset. Experience is the best teacher because it gradually teaches me how to be calm enough to handle and deal with such problems in the future.
To be honest, if there was only about cleaning up the bath and floor, admittedly I've not perfectly performed the tasks yet. The Japanese people pay so much attention to the quality of public baths. They do not like to see any clumps of hair in the shower drains. That's why I always set and follow my own rule, which is "Never leave out any strand of hair on the floor, wall and shower drain".
As a process, I observe, check and pick up any strain of hair on the floor before turning the machine on. Then, 3 square and 1 rectangular rugs placed between the bath room and clothes changing room also need meticulous and thorough care. All the time I try to arrange them neatly and nicely enough so that they are always placed to fit to the straight lines on the floor.
"Only by doing all the things, we are able to achieve our customer satisfaction." - Uncle Karatsuyama has taught me so.
Cleaning Onsen is not a very difficult job but it really demands attention and thoroughness from the person in the whole process of cleaning. Obviously sometimes it tires me out and even in a few seconds, a thought of finishing the task perfunctorily did cross my mind. But then there is one person who makes this bad intention go away immediately. Who is the person? What are the significant influences and position of this "mysterious person" to me and what does it mean to my working time in the Onsen?
Please stay tuned to the next part of my article!
If you come to Beppu by any chance, please visit Umezono Onsen!
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