My mother originated from the southern island of Kyushu.
I was about five when my parents took me to the hot spring city of Beppu, a few hours away from my mother's native town.
The city is famous for various kinds of "hells." The hells are actually special kinds of hot springs, which have been turned into fictional realms belonging to another world where earthly sins would be corrected.
My aunts and uncles were with us. Seeing some hells must have fuelled my imagination. I remember vividly how we came to the entrance of a hot spring bath, when my aunt said that it was called a "thousand people bath" (sen-nin-buro), as a thousand people could bathe at the same time.
The word stimulated my mind, which had been made soft and sensitive by the exposure to the hells. I pictured a thousand people in bare skins standing very close to each other, with the white steam encircling them.
I wanted to see it for myself, but I was dragged by the hand and was taken to the station, where we took the train to travel further.
More than 30 years later, I visited the city of Beppu for a brain science conference. I found out where the "thousand people bath" was in the tourist office.
The real "thousand people bath" was a gigantic hot water pool, roofed by a huge glass structure. The sunshine filled the interior, and there were trees and grasses shining in healthy green colors.
It was nice, but very different from what the five year old imagined it to be.
I am still looking for my thousand people bath.