John and the Japanese Massage Chair

Even after four visits and cumulatively two months of my life spent in Japan, there are still things that can humble me, beat me down, and kick the crap out of me in this country. Exhibit A : the Japanese massage chair.

On Tuesday, I had just finished my first Japanese gym session since arriving two weeks ago. I had promised myself that I was going to try and keep to my workout routine while in Japan because despite sweating all the time and the copious cardio I get from walking almost everywhere, the reality is that none of that builds and maintains muscle mass. So, I paid my ¥600 to drop by the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium in Sendagaya to pump a little iron and break an earned sweat.

After a good first workout, I hit the showers. On the way, I noticed a sign which pointed to the “relax area” of the men’s locker room.  After I got squeaky clean, I came back curious to see what this “relax area” was. In it – three massage chairs. But not just any massage chair. Right, game show announcer?

Thaaaat’s right, John! It’s the Fujiiryoki Cyber-Relax EC-2700. The combination of Fujiiryoki’s Super-Mechanism with two massage balls and air massage makes it possible to provide 677 types of fine massages from the nape to the soles. And let’s face it… who doesn’t love a good nape massage? Back to you, John!

This thing is a beast. And I was eager to try it out.

After putting some clothes on, I scurried back to the “relax area” to snag one of the three chairs before anyone else did. An older man was horizontal in one of the chairs at the end of room, so I grabbed the one closest to the door. I hopped up in it and proceeded to try and figure out how to it reclined. That’s when I noticed the first thing that should have sent off some warning lights. The entire remote control was in Japanese. There were a few arrows and dotted lines pointing to parts of the chair in an icon on the screen, but for the most part this was almost all Kanji.  But, hey!  A remote control is a remote control – and the Y chromosome in my body means I’m genetically predisposed to understanding remote controls!  I’m sure I can figure this out.  (That was mistake two… a little misplaced confidence goes a long way.)

After a minute or two of pressing up and down arrows hoping to make the chair recline, I settled on my first massage being an upright one. So, I hit the big green button at the top of the screen. It presented three menu options and in Japan, I’ve come to find the best option is almost always the one that is highlighted for you already.  Content with the chair’s recommendation, I pressed a button that looked like it’d be in the spot where you’d find an “ok” button on an English remote control.

The chair sprang to life.

Rollers pressed out from the soft padding of the chair and started to massage me vigorously at the nape of my neck.  I smiled – This was kind of nice.

I looked to my right and saw the older gentleman with his arms in these holes in the chair – almost like little tunnels built under the arm rest. I decided to put my arms in the same spot, but not before fiddling the the remote control a few more times hoping – in vain – to try and get the chair horizontal. In the process, I’m certain I adjusted some of the settings for my massage. That’s where I think things started to take a left turn.

With my arms tucked in under the armrest, I laid back in to the chair as the rollers continued to work their way down my spine. As they got close to the small of my back, air bags inside the arm holes started to inflate, locking my arms in place. The same thing was happening in the foot hold of the chair around my ankles. My eyes widened as the rollers really started to give it to my lower back.

Pummel… pummel… pummel… squish… squeeze… compress…

Air bags beneath my buttocks also started to inflate, effectively locking my ass in to the chair along with my arms and legs.  Escape was not an option.  What kind of torture device did I submit to?!

Squish… squeeze… pummel… pummel… vice grip squeeze…

It seemed like forever as rollers continued their assault on my lower back – causing me to gasp and even stortle loudly at the absurdity of the whole situation. My eyes bugged out in that same way you react after being hit in the groin. If the man in the room with me was relaxing before, I’m certain by opening his eyes and looking left he would have been amused by the pained expression on my face. He had to be getting some enjoyment out of this, otherwise, what was the point of it?!

Finally, the arms, legs, and butt finally started to be less compressed, and the rollers started their way back up my spine. I sank in to the chair exhausted from what just happened to me. As the massage finally moved toward my neck, I took the opportunity of being able to move my arms, and reached up to hit a red button which (thankfully) stopped everything. I couldn’t take another round in the chair. At least… not today.

I lifted my body out of the chair, scraped together what little pride I had left and walked back to my locker to collect my things.  As I’ve come to find in Japan, the quality of the chair was good.  Real good.  Too good.  But unlike a human masseuse who can check in and ask, “am I hurting you,” the chair doesn’t care.  It dutifully does its job – no more, no less.

I will tackle the chair again.  Or maybe it’ll tackle me.  Regardless, one little beat-down isn’t going to stop my quest for relaxation!

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