Hot air wooshes through my nostrils, ballooning warmly in my lungs. Fat beads of sweat gain critical mass and tumble down my skin in little rivulets, plinking softly onto the cedar bench.
Cool sip of water. Eyes like hot jelly against closed lids.
A final slow breath of heat and I head for the door on pulpy legs. Outside the sauna, cool air like a bite from Eden’s crisp apple, I reflexively lift the towel to cover myself. My prudishness surprises me; nearly all the women at the communal bath have opted against bathing suits. Placing the towel aside, I step into the cold pool. A full-body contraction catches my breath and holds it tight. Teeth gritted and eyes winched shut, I lower myself into the frigid waters. A quick dunk of my head (much too quick—the sloshing water creates a jarring note amidst slow-moving spa serenity), and I hustle back out, limbs already a blotchy red from the cold.
Lying down amidst the sopping vapors of the steam room, my skin prickles with the heat seeping through chilled flesh. Deep breaths in, long, slow exhales. In… out…in… eyes close… in… out… the shower is turned on, pattering against the tile. A fan whirs above, buffeting the hot, liquescent air against my body. In… out… in… out… I scoop salt from a little square dish and massage it over my sweat-slick skin. A quick rinse, and a sip of cold cucumber water that slides with a shiver down my throat, spreading a cooling tickle to the base of my spine.
Another chest-tightening cold water dunk, another thawing steam. Beautiful sopped narcosis.
Located at 1750 Geary Boulevard in Japantown, the communal baths at Kabuki Springs & Spa are modeled after traditional Japanese public baths. The baths are women-only on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and men-only on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Single sex days are bathing suit optional. Tuesdays are co-ed and require bathing suits. Use of the baths is $25, or $15 when booked with a spa treatment.