Cleaning Onsen in Japan: Not only about earning (Part 2)
To me, "transforming into Chihiro to do Onsen cleaning" is not solely about earning. Above all, it is the key that leads me to the interesting cultural life of Onsen.
A man who really loves the work in Onsen
Do you still remember the uncle named Karatsuyama? I'll tell about him quite a bit in this part. He owns a ramen shop and even though he is nearly 70 years old, I really thought that he was just only 50 years old when I first met him! Despite his old age, he is in very good health with a great tall body, healthy skin along with a sharp mind and a good sense of humor.
He is the only local person who volunteers to come to open the door, hang the board, do the laundry, dry the carpets, sweep the floors, clean the dust and pump water for Umezono Onsen without asking for any financial returns. We work together, but there are some days when I did not come to the Onsen, he is still there and doing all the things alone. Even when he has a cold, runny nose or a very bad cough, he still comes on time to work as usual.
His tremendous enthusiasm and joy in labour are shown in his charming smile and in what he often says "Ohayou!" (Good morning!), "Shigoto ga suki desu!" (I love this job!).
Uncle Karatsuyama is a typical traditional Japanese who is always thinking about the community. It shows by the way he places the rugs, warms up the walls and bottom of the baths before pumping water into it with thorough care. He also cleans all around again before coming home. He takes all his efforts, simply because he thinks "Only by doing all the things, our customers will feel comfortable and satisfied when bathing here".
Is it true if people say the reason why the Japanese people very succeed in service industries is just because they always live and keep thoughts for the other people and the community? For me, the answer is a yes. Above all, I think what he has done and taught me while the two of us being "Onsen cleaner" are really great and helpful so that I keep them in my mind as in the way I learn and improve myself every day.
How peaceful working at the Onsen is!
For me, this Onsen cleaning job is very special and meaningful for some reasons. It was the first part-time job when I first arrived in Japan. At that time, I was still amazed about the life here. Like Chihiro, I went to Umezono Onsen to be a “Cleaner" and started to sense the world around me.
I gradually noticed the sounds of a familiar and peaceful Beppu. From Umezono Onsen, I could hear a cheerful rattling noise to announce the garbage collection time or the sound of a distant church bell early in the morning. If I wait until 9 o'clock, I could also hear the footsteps of a lady who often comes and arranges some flowers and offerings for the Onsen Deity in the shrine placed in front of the entrance. After that, she strikes the bronze bell producing a deep, long "clang".
In another Onsen, I could see old men and women sitting together, drinking canned black coffee, smoking cigarettes and chatting while waiting for the Onsen's opening time. In such moments I realize that life is so beautiful! I feel familiar with the rhythm of Japanese life around Onsen. It is the scent, the sound and the ordinary scenes, not like the crazy busyness of big cities like Tokyo.
I am even more happy because all the people here really treat me well. Uncle Karatsuyama always puts a bag of tasty mandarines or cakes next to my backpack placed on the shelf. Thanks to him, I have a light meal or a delicious dessert after work. Also, he likes learning English so he always asks me to teach him a few words. We often open and move our mouths to clearly pronounce a word. Our funny moments are just simple like that!
If Onsen was not open anymore
Uncle Karatsuyama also often explains to me the stories about Japanese culture. For example, the significant meaning of this Onsen cleaning.
Beppu is a renowned Onsen capital but in fact, the local onsen here are facing with the problems of inadequate human resources to clean and take care for the onsen. Without daily cleaning, it is impossible to manage the Onsen's businesses in the future. Why? Because Onsen will become dirty and poor quality, no one will come and pay for its maintenance. In that case, Onsen owners have no choice but stop the businesses.
For the locals, Onsen has been a long-standing culture in their daily life so it will be a heartbreaking and regretful story if Onsen is shut down one day. Perhaps they will lose a familiar place where they can relax with natural warm water and relieve the daily stress of lives. They will lose a place of fellowship to meet and chat with all people around. It may empty their souls and leave a loss in everyone's mind.
It will be a heartbreaking and regretful story if Onsen is shut down one day.
That is why Onsen cleaning is especially meaningful to all the people here. I thought it was just a "Baito" but it was actually a small contribution to protect the Onsen culture. Now, the old ladies often call me "Ofuro sama" which means "The girl who cleans Onsen".
In conclusion, this Onsen cleaning job will be an unforgettable experience and memory when I am no longer in Japan one day. I discovered more about life and people around me when cleaning Umezono Onsen. I better understood the values of Onsen to the Japanese community. Moreover, I feel happy and extremely proud to do this job. Therefore, despite the hardship, it was well worth it.
If you come to Beppu by any chance, please visit Umezono Onsen!
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