An American reporter in Japan

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Fish are frightening

Hello! I'm sorry I haven't posted anything in so long...Blame it on myspace..if you look me up by my "calabanya" e-mail my page should pop up, and if you've got an account, make me your friend! Now you're probably wondering about this freaky picture.
These are Yunessun's "Doctor Fish." They live in a tub in a fancy-ass onsen resort in the mountains of Hakone. It's a popular exhibit that's only open three times a day with eager lines around the wavepool. Doctor Fish subsist on a highly complex diet -- of dead foot skin. You've heard of sushi? Well, this is shoe-shi...only the roles are reversed. That's right, your feet are fish food. They eat all the gunk you neglected to exfoliate. Exfolia...whah? Exactly. And because I need a dictionary to find out what exfoliating means, my toosies started a feeding frenzy. Roiling, chumming-the-shark-infested-waters kind of frenzy. The sensation of little mouths gobbling at my feet made me slightly queasy, but yet I couldn't rip my eyes away from the train wreck at my toes.I wasn't humiliated until I looked up.Everyone was staring at us. I looked at their water. A couple of minnows like lonely pepper specks nibbled at the Japanese in the pool. The swarm soley swam around us. Americans were Doctor Fish's favorite patients.It's true -- we're dirty! At that moment, we embodied the Japanese stereotype -- proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by the wriggling black cloud of fish at our feet.Thankfully, it was over in five minutes because the fish were starting to crawl up my leg. If it's dry skin they want, they found the mother lode. I'm pretty sure layers of moisturizer are the only thing keeping me from disintegrating into a flakey pile of skin snow.We talked about our shared trauma as we dried our feet (they actually looked pretty good; mine were glowing).This exercise was supposed to be Barb's "breakthough." Fear of fish had kept her out of the water for many years. But Barb was brave, only flipping her feet out of the tub slightly earlier than the group. She even kept her "Get them off me!" chant to a whisper."Can you believe they only wanted our American feet? We're disgusting!" said Barb.Diane took the explanatory route."Japanese people are really into scrubbing," she said, adding with compassion, "The fish would have starved without us."Patti floated the cultural diet theory."Japanese probably taste like rice and fish and Americans taste like cheese and milk -- the fish probably thought we tasted better."Lia threw cannibalism to the mix. If Japanese people eat a lot of fish, then the fish wouldn't want to eat them because they'd be reminded of their partially-digested lost schoolmates."Fish have a keen sense of these matters," she said.I am not comforted. Though I take a hedonistic pleasure in being dirty, 600 minnows feasting on your toes like it's their last Thanksgiving is the stuff of nightmares. I'm buying a pumice thingy tomorrow. And no sushi for a week.