Hearing that San Francisco's Japan-town houses one of the secrets with which those little black-silk-suited businessmen from the East have conquered the world for Sony, Toyota and the yen, Playboy asked fretful, tense, inscrutable correspondent Herbert Gold to investigate. He sent back this limber, hydrated, brain-aerated communiqué from the Kabuki Hot Spring, 1750 Geary Boulevard:
Nonsexual massage! I'd not heard of that in years, but that's what they offer here. It's the Shiatsu technique and it involves acupuncture pressure points leaned on by a very powerful little lady, I discover, as I recline naked under shifting towels. No needles, but she finds pain anyway--the kind that's good for me.
But let me begin at the beginning. First I am inserted like a child astronaut into a steam machine, made in Tokyo, which cooks me into a state of flaccid receptivity. (I dreamI'm in a Dodg'em car, circling the moon.) Then I sit on a low stool while she--"Caw me Numbah Sixteen"--shampoos my hair and dashes pans of water over me, washes my back with a scratchy, friendly, towelly straw device. Country living in the middle of San Francisco. Then I climb into a high bath and lie at floating ease, like a mote on the eye of the world.
Giggles interrupt my meditation. Numbah Sixteen beckons me out of the tub. I dry myself off. On the table, she seems to be climbing all over me with knees, feet, hands. There are faint sharp popping noises. I groan once or twice. She giggles. "You have heavy?" she asks.
I don't understand.
"You have heavy? You have heavy?"
She is making me wince as she digs into my primitive American stick-shift, four-on-the-floor neck.
"You have heavy?"
Ah! "No, no headache."
"Good, no heavy."
Her mild karate chops afford amazing comfort for your average tired anybody. It hurts. It delights. She hits me on the rump like my high school football coach, she twists my instep till I remember my sixth-grade English teacher, she regresses me into Plato's doctrine of reminiscence by bending the flexible Shelley gland, she gently smears old guilts through the intestine by retreading peristaltic action--heck, I can't analyze with a towel over my head. I'm pure. I'm happy at last.
"Rerax," she says.
Unnecessary command. I am reraxed.
This hour of steam, shampoo, back wash, deep tub and massage in a private room with fine Formica paneling from the tall Formica forests of California costs $13. Without private bath, $10. It includes free Seven-Up.
Naturally, I return. The thoroughness of my investigations on behalf of truth and the circulatory system knows no bounds. This time I bring my lady. We take the sauna together and then withdraw to our separate rooms--with a separate but equal Fumi and Yoko (numbah five, numbah ereven)--joined only in spirit and by Japanese Muzak (lute strings and mournful horns), which we share through the walls while our joints are popped. Afterward, we tarry awhile with our Seven-Ups in the intime dining room, furnished in Danish kosher, with sashimi displayed in refrigerated cases and lights in plastic tubes. We are joined by a few Pan Am pilots (coming out of their time warp with the aid of spinal manipulation), some proudly aristocratic local groovers (maybe record producers) and a serioso visiting dollar-devaluation specialist from Nippon. Then my lady and I hit the smoky evening streets of Japantown, feeling as if we could fly, and seeking to bring the message of pressure-point massage to the world. No more heavy.