Around Japan in 47 curries: Fukushima fire curry

August 24, 2017

This is Part 17 of a 47-part series of occasional blog posts looking at curries from each of Japan’s 47 prefectures.

Fukushima Prefecture has a long history of recovering from geological disasters. Some of those disasters can be remembered through local curries.

Since the latest and most terrible of these disasters – the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, nuclear meltdown and mass evacuation – I have visited the prefecture at least four times. No, I didn’t visit the ruined nuclear power plant. But as I will explain further down in this post, knowledge of its existence didn’t deter me from eating several local curries. Two of those curries are marketed with images of fire.

Ukiyo-e print by Tankei depicting the Eruption of Mount Bandai, 1888 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The first curry commemorates the July 15, 1888, eruption of Mt. Bandai, a volcano near the center of the 13,780-square-kilometer prefecture. The mountain had been a smooth, Fuji-like cone before it suddenly exploded due to a buildup of underground steam. The blast – which went largely sideways rather than up, similar to the explosion of Mt. St. Helens in the United States a century later  – left behind an irregularly shaped mountain with four separate peaks. According to the Japan Meteorological Agency,  the explosion could be heard from a distance of 50 to 100 kilometers, an avalanche of debris buried five towns and 11 villages, and ash fell from the sky along the coast of the Pacific Ocean, about 90 kilometers away. At least 461 people died.

Did I say there’s a curry that commemorates this event? Perhaps I should have said there’s a curry that cashes in on it. The design on the box of “Mt. Bandai Great Eruption Curry” is not exactly reverent. But I bought it in a souvenir shop at the foot of the still-active volcano. The people who live and work in such an area are entitled to a bit of gallows humor, especially more than a century later.

The back of the box includes warnings that children, pregnant women, and those with weak stomachs or high blood pressure should eat this lava-like curry with caution, if at all. So naturally, I was expecting something super-hot. As it says on the label: 超辛 chou-kara.

Unfortunately, all I can say about this curry is that it was hot. It wasn’t pleasantly peppery, like Kagawa Prefecture’s olive curry.  Nor was it masochistically thrilling, like Miyazaki Prefecture’s jet-fuel curry. It was just plain hot. I was disappointed by its lack of complexity, but if simple hotness is what you’re after, this curry is for you.

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By Lincun via Wikimedia Commons

The next disaster occurred in the late 1960s. The coal mining industry in Iwaki, a coastal city in the southeast corner of the prefecture, had gone into decline due to Japan’s growing use of oil. The local mining company tried to diversify into tourism. It created a hot spring resort called the Joban Hawaiian Center, now Spa Resort Hawaiians. According to a Yomiuri Shimbun interview with an executive of the resort, disaster ironically struck when the mine then hit an underground body of water and flooded, forcing it to shut down a decade ahead of schedule.

A major attraction of the resort was its hula dancing shows, put on by women from the miners’ families. Their story was even turned into a popular 2006 movie, “Hula Girls.”

Everyone knows about the third big disaster – or set of disasters – to hit Fukushima Prefecture. On March 11, 2011, a huge earthquake set off a massive tsunami that ravaged the coast, killed thousands of people, and damaged the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, leading to meltdowns in three of its reactors. The meltdowns prompted large-scale evacuations that themselves have been blamed for many additional deaths.

In addition to the cost in human lives, the tsunami devastated local economies up and down the coast – but especially in Fukushima, where fears of radiation kept tourists away and drove down sales of agricultural products.

About two years after the disaster, I made a minor contribution to the prefecture’s economic recovery by visiting Spa Resort Hawaiians. I soaked in a large rotenburo outdoor bath, I went down the many water slides again and again (a feat made possible by the lines still being so short at that time because people were staying away) and of course I took in the hula show. I was pleased to see that the hula girls are now joined by hula boys, who stunt-dance with flaming torches.

Finally, I bought omiyage souvenirs to bring back to Tokyo and share with my coworkers. This is standard etiquette for Japanese travelers, and omiyage is almost always some edible specialty from the place you visited. But would my coworkers want to eat food from Fukushima? And could I be sure that it was safe enough for me to offer it to them with a clear conscience? There was a lot of doubt in the air at that time, so I split the difference and picked up a couple of boxes of Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts. They clearly weren’t made in Fukushima, but at least I was leaving some money in Fukushima to get them.

Since then, I have become much more sanguine about food from Fukushima. I’ve been following the news, and I have yet to read even one credible report of any dangerously radioactive food reaching the retail market. Not one. Moreover, Japan’s standards about radioactivity in food are now ridiculously strict.

The United States allows up to 1,200 becquerels of radioactive cesium in food. The European Union allows levels ranging from 400 to 1,250, depending on the food category. Japan allows just 10 to 100. This means that if a food item exceeded the Japanese limit by 500 percent, it would still be less than half as radioactive as some foods that would be perfectly legal to sell in the United States or Europe. (Details here.)

To look at it another way, the following chart from Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency shows that eating a whole kilogram of food with cesium at the 100-becquerel level would expose you to less than 2 percent of the radiation you’d get just by sitting in an airplane on a flight from Tokyo to New York.

Radiation chart

So, just as I am not afraid to eat spicy food, I am not afraid to eat food from Fukushima. When I came across some Hula Girl curry at a Fukushima antenna shop in Tokyo recently, I didn’t hesitate to buy it and try it.

I’m happy to report that the “fire beef” curry, with a torch-twirling hula boy in the corner of the box, is much more interesting to ingest than the Bandai lava curry. This curry is quite hot, but with more varied flavors also making themselves known. It’s tomatoey with faint hints of fruit. It’s hotness seemed jalapeno-esque, with a little sweetness to it, even though jalapenos are not on the ingredient list. The ingredients begin with beef (ground, rather than the chunks I’d hoped for, but it’s definitely in there), followed by onions, flour, curry roux, sugar, tomato paste, salt, curry powder, onion powder, beef extract, togarashi hot pepper, coconut milk powder, mango chutney, pineapple puree, garlic, and garam masala, ending with the usual inescapable colorings and such. Good stuff, over all.

Dancing with a flaming torch is scary. Eating Fukushima curry is not.

Pool review: Amusing art near the Shinjuku Sports Center

July 5, 2017

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Getting off the subway at Nishi Waseda Station on the Fukutoshin Line last month, I intended to go directly to the Shinjuku Sports Center for a swim.

IMG_7138But as soon as I reached the ticket gate on my way to Exit 3, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of a large stained glass window that was clearly the work of one of my favorite Japanese artists, Akira Yamaguchi.

Yamaguchi’s art is fantastic – in every sense of that word. He combines traditional Japanese styles and subject matter with intricate renderings of fantasy machines, often in panoramic murals of mind-boggling detail and complexity. His cutaway views of urban infrastructure, like the one in this window, call to mind the work of David Macaulay, even while those views are often framed or divided by drifting clouds in a technique borrowed from Japanese art of centuries past. You could call his work steampunk or Nihonga or both, but Yamaguchi has a surreal imagination and sense of humor that is all his own.

IMG_7137The stained glass window, for example, features a cutaway view of a triple-decker subway train that has a communal bath on its lowest level. That’s the kind of silliness I love about his pictures.

Another little detail worth noting is the woman standing on a platform in front of a sign that identifies the station as 西早稲田, Nishi Waseda.

Continuing out Exit 3 of Nishi Waseda Station, you’ll find a tree-filled park. In the middle of the park stands the Shinjuku Sports Center. The trees make the building difficult to photograph, but the pool is behind these foggy windows:

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Admission is 400 yen, and you’ll need a 100 yen coin to use as a deposit for a locker in the rather Spartan locker room. (It has benches and a spin drier, but not much else in the way of amenities.) The locker keys are attached to wristbands you can wear while you swim, but the first locker I put my clothes into turned out to have a broken wristband. So, I moved my stuff to a different locker and headed out to the pool.

The pool is 25 meters long and six lanes wide. One lane appeared to be permanently set aside for walking, and a swimming lesson began in one of the other lanes while I was there, which left the remaining four lanes slightly crowded. There is also a large shallow kiddy pool. Between the two pools, on the side opposite the locker rooms, there is a warming room where you can sit when the lifeguards call a break from swimming, as they seem to do every hour at most public pools in the Tokyo area.

One wall of the pool area is adorned with a large tile mosaic of a rainbow. Part of my mind recognized this as an effort to create a cheerful atmosphere, while another part – which I tried to suppress – found it a bit dasai. This uncharitable thought may have been influenced by the dim lighting at the time of my visit. It was a weekday morning, and most of the light came from outside, muffled by tree branches and foggy glass. It might be brighter inside at night.

But dim lighting or not, I had to admit that the place was immaculately clean and – aside from one broken wrist strap – very well maintained. Also, each of the staff members I briefly dealt with was very pleasant and helpful. This included a guy who came pushing a broom through the locker room as I was getting dressed to leave. When I pointed out the broken wrist strap, he ran out and came back a moment later with a roll of heavy tape that he used to seal the locker shut so no one else would try to use it.

By the time you read this, I am sure it will have been repaired.

Two new curry snacks

May 22, 2017

At the convenience store the other day, I found two new curry-flavored products on the snack shelves. On the left, there is curry-flavored kaki-pi, which is light on the peanuts and heavy on the crescent-shaped rice crackers. These are spicy and peppery, flavored with curry from the Coco Ichibanya curry chain, which has 1,299 shops all over Japan and 158 abroad. This is a limited-time product from Kameda, a major Japanese snack company.
On the right, there is fried mochi that claims to be curry-flavored. The airy nuggets were lightly dusted with a golden-brown powder that was pleasantly sweet and ever so faintly spicy, but I wouldn’t have guessed it was supposed to taste like curry if it hadn’t been written on the package. You can’t beat the price, though. It was just 81 yen for a bag – slightly more on Amazon.

Swim like Kermit and feast on bagels in Setagaya

December 8, 2016

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If you’re a swimmer who likes bagels, you should pay a visit to the Setagaya Chitose All-Season Swimming Pool in Tokyo. What are quite likely the best bagels in Tokyo are available nearby.

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The pool is a little over a kilometer south of Hachimanyama Station on the Keio Line, but on my visit to the pool, I got off one stop away, at Kamikitazawa Station. I wanted to pay a visit to Kepo Bagels, which I had been to several years before while researching a newspaper article on the Tokyo bagel scene.

41-lmk55qxl-_sx310_bo1204203200_A bagel, like a swimmer, approaches perfection by spending time in the water. Good bagels are boiled before they are baked. According to “The Bagel” by Maria Balinska, “Cooking the surface of the dough in water … gelatinizes the starch and creates the distinctive glossy crust.” I remembered Kepo Bagels as having the best crust among the numerous Tokyo bagels I tried. It contrasted very pleasingly with the bread’s chewy interior. I was happy to find that Kepo Bagels were still excellent. (The visit I’m writing about now was last fall, so I’ll have to go again to make sure they’re still good. I’m sure they will be.) Visit http://www.kepobagels.com for the latest info.

imageedit_5_8067224878Having stowed a couple of bagel sandwiches in my gym bag, I set off for the pool. Even though it was well over a kilometer from Kamikitazawa Station, I was able to find it easily by using the tall chimney of a garbage incineration plant as a navigational guide. Just like Genki Plaza and the Ikebukuro Sports Center, the Chitose pool gets its hot water and electricity from energy created by burning garbage. As a member of the pool staff said when I asked her about it, “Mottainai.” Let’s not be wasteful.

PANM.JPGLike most pools attached to incinerators, the pool is a gorgeous contrast to its power source. It’s part of an architecturally wacky building that also includes a gym and a café. The pool itself is in a wing of the building that hovers over a sunken outdoor atrium. The ceiling over the pool is oddly angled, like the lid on a rectangular yogurt carton that has been partially peeled open. This makes it slightly disorienting if you’re trying to use the ceiling as a guide to swimming in a straight line while doing backstroke.

However, another part of the backstroke view is quite delightful. At the end of the pool opposite the entrance from the locker rooms, there is a spiral water slide on an island surrounded by a ring-shaped river pool. The slide and its little pool are covered by an indoor roof supported by thin pillars that flare into wide discs at the top. These pillars reminded me of the ones used by Frank Lloyd Wright in his design for the Johnson Wax headquarters building in Racine, Wisconsin.

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But what they reminded me of even more was lily pads. As they came into my water-blurred field of vision each time I backstroked toward them, I felt like I was getting a frog’s-eye view from the bottom of a pond.

And of course, when all was said and done, I had to go down the slide a time or two. It was a tame ride, but a nice little post-workout reward.

The pool is 25 meters long and six lanes wide. Its 480 yen entry fee includes use of a locker. Other amenities include a warming room, a spa area and a spin dryer.

After my swim, I walked north along Kan-Pachi Dori (Route 311), a major road that leads to Hachimanyama Station. About halfway there, I found bench where I could sit down and eat my bagel sandwiches while watching the traffic go by. All in all, it was a very satisfactory outing.

You shouldn’t swim in the Meguro River

August 29, 2016

AA8But there is a great place to swim right next to it.

The photo above shows a view of the river from a bridge that you can find by walking west and downhill from Tokyo’s Meguro Station along Meguro-dori avenue. The trees on the left side of the river conceal the Meguro Kumin Center, a complex of public facilities that includes a 50-meter outdoor pool that is open from July 1 to Sept. 11. (Those are the 2016 dates, and it may not be open on Sept. 4.)

As you walk along the riverbank, the pool will become visible through the trees – along with a typical warning to cover up any tattoos.

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I loved this pool. At the time of my visit on a recent Monday afternoon there were a few dozen people using it, but its vast size made it feel relatively uncrowded. There were two wide lanes set aside for lap swimming, with one-way traffic in each so that you had to duck under a rope at the end of each length. The water was clear and cool, and when I realized that swim caps were not required – a rarity at public pools here – I swam my last few laps gloriously naked from the ears up. A 10-minute break was called at the end of each hour.

If the pool itself was wonderful, the locker room was less impressive. It was a small space with nowhere to sit down. The entire floor was soaking wet, and covered with mats of small plastic beads that were uncomfortable to walk on. But with admission at just 200 yen, who can complain?

In addition to the gigantic outdoor pool, there is also a 25-meter indoor pool and a blob-shaped outdoor kiddie pool. Admission to the kiddie pool is a separate 100 yen.

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The two outdoor pools are in separate areas divided by a brick walkway, in the middle of which stands a life-size sculpture of a young woman by Fumio Asakura, the “Rodin of the East” who also created the sculptures seen at the Taito Riverside Sports Center across town. Asakura (1883-1964) sculpted the woman in the year Taisho 11 (1922), making this an earlier work than the ones seen at the Taito facility. Its title is “Hana no Kage,” which literally means “Flower Shadow.”

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A few of the works in the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture’s outdoor area

If you’re an athlete who loves art, this is the place to be. Not only does the Meguro Kumin Center have three pools, a room full of exercise machines, and courts for basketball, volleyball and badminton, but it is also home to the Meguro Museum of Art. There are other art museums nearby, such as the Kume Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture. On the other side of Meguro Station is the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. And on a less artistic note, Meguro is also home to the small but memorable Meguro Parasitological Museum.

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Warped figures line a path at the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture.

Many Tokyo museums are closed on Mondays, the day of my visit to this pool, but the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture has an outdoor sculpture garden you can see at any time. The garden twists its way through several barely contiguous plots of land in a hilly residential area above Yamate-dori avenue, a major thoroughfare that runs parallel to the Meguro River. The Meguro Kumin Center is between the road and the river.

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If all of this swimming and art-walking has given you an appetite, look for Ramen Jiro Meguro across Yamate-dori from the Meguro Kumin Center. This is a rather famous place, despite its grungy appearance. Or perhaps because of its grungy appearance: Many ramen lovers revel in the “B-class” status of their favorite dish.

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I ordered a “small” bowl of noodles with pork. It was fatty, garlicky and filling – and not exactly small. After a two-kilometer swim, it was just right.

 

 

Pool review: Swim like a hero in Taito Ward

July 29, 2016

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On July 21, one of my favorite Tokyo pools opened for the summer. The Taito Riverside Sports Center’s outdoor pool – barely visible through the trees in this photo – is 50 meters long by 19 meters wide. I’ve never seen it crowded (though I’ve only been there on weekday mornings). Admission is shockingly cheap at 200 yen.

As you swim through the crystal-clear water, you can gaze up at the 634-meter Tokyo Skytree, whose staggering height makes it appear to loom directly over the pool, even though it and the sports center stand on different sides of the Sumida River. Now and then, a seagull may fly across your view, cruising up the river from Tokyo Bay, about 10 kilometers downstream. It’s a lovely spot.

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Sumida River fireworks and the Tokyo Skytree by 桜庭シェリー via Wikimedia Commons

It also happens to be at the center of one of Tokyo’s biggest summer events, the Sumida River fireworks display. A barge anchored next to the sports center’s grounds is the main launching spot for the pyrotechnics, which means that the pool is closed from noon on the day of the event (July 30 this year) until noon the following day.

In contrast to the magnificence of the pool itself, the locker room is Spartan. It has no benches, and no spin drier that I could find. It does, however, have the nicest floor I have ever encountered in such a facility. It’s covered with hard plastic beads embedded in soft plastic gel – very comfortable to walk on and seemingly very non-slip.

Ordinarily, the pool is open from 9 to 5, and then again imageedit_4_7870116349from 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening. However, on my latest visit, the pool’s opening was delayed until 10. The reason, explained by a lifeguard who pantomimed shivering to drive the point home, is that it was just too cold that morning. I doubt it would have been too cold for me, but I’ve got more natural insulation than the average Japanese swimmer. Hopefully, as the summer wears on, such closures will be rare. The lifeguard told me that the pool is also closed when it rains.

The delay of an hour gave me some time to walk around the neighborhood and also have a look at two life-sized statues of athletes on display in the main lobby of the sports center’s building. I had never used the main entrance before, because the entrance for the outdoor pool is around back, on the left (north) side of the building.

Both sculptures are by Fumio Asakura (1883-1964), who was nicknamed “The Rodin of the East.” One of them, titled 競技前 (Kyougi Mae, or Before the Competition), is a man stretching before an event, probably in the ancient Olympics. It was apparently made in 1959.

The other work is apparently from 1927, much earlier in Asakura’s career, but in my opinion it’s a more interesting and appealing work. Titled 水の猛者 (Mizu no Mosa, or Water Hero), it is a man in what was then contemporary swimming attire, walking along with a towel slung around his neck.

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His jaunty pose and self-assured facial expression give him a real personality. One can easily imagine that he has just emerged from the nearby river after performing some aquatic feat, and is now strolling away to get a well-earned cup of sake. (Historically speaking, it’s a safe bet that he was adept at sidestroke.) Although his swimsuit places him in relatively modern times, the work has some classical aspects. For instance, Asakura uses the hero’s towel the same way Michelangelo uses David’s sling – to put his figure in a pose with one arm flexed and the other relaxed.

By the way, if you’d like to see another Asakura sculpture, check this blog again in the future. He has a statue of a woman at another public swimming pool that I hope to write about soon.

This year, the outdoor pool will be open through September 4. If the Taito Riverside Sports’ Center has any disadvantages, a somewhat inconvenient location is one of them. There is a bus stop out front, but the facility is not close to any train station. If you take the subway to Asakusa, be prepared for a 10 to 15 minute walk north along the river.

For more information, visit here, here, or here.

 

 

 

 

On the ingenuity of Japanese crows

April 20, 2016

A pair of architects recently built and moved into a new home just a few blocks from my apartment. The high-rise residence uses traditional building methods to re-purpose modern industrial materials.

I refer, of course, to a crow’s nest made of wire hangers.

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When I first noticed my new neighbors about a week ago, I wondered where all of those hangers came from. Did a hapless dry cleaner leave a window open? Nearly everyone in Japan hangs their laundry outside to dry, but I assumed that a hanger with clothes on it would be too unwieldy for a crow to handle. Where would they find empty hangers?

The other day, I stumbled across the answer while reading the Yomiuri Kodomo Shimbun children’s newspaper. In an educational manga by Akane Kasugaa group of kids stake out a parking lot to find out who has been removing rubber strips from vehicles’ windshield wipers. The wiper-taker turns out to be a crow. They follow the bird back to its nest, which – lo and behold – is made entirely of wire hangers. 

According to the manga, the crow nest-building season runs from March to May. So we’re right in the middle of it now. 

One of the children in the manga had recently lost a school uniform that she had hung out to dry. It turns out that the crow took that, too, to make a soft lining inside its wiry nest. The rubber wiper blades serve the same purpose. Apparently, hangers having clothes on them is not enough to stop a determined crow after all.

The children talk about the crow having “stolen” the materials for its nest, but I’m not sure this vocabulary is correct (even if I often use it myself). It’s more accurate to say they are “gathering” material to build a nest – just as they would if they lived in a forest.

Japanese crows have adapted to life in a totally man-made environment. And in that environment, they are doing exactly what birds are meant to do.

 

 

I love oysters

February 25, 2016

Oyster market shell

I love oysters.

I love the pleasure of eating them. I love their succulent mouthfeel and their umami flavor.

I love the fact that they are considered a luxury item, which makes eating them feel decadent.

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I love the fact that, despite their luxury reputation, they are often quite cheap. (You can get a tray of five for 238 yen at my local supermarket, meaning each one costs less than half a packet of M&Ms.)

Oyster stew

I love that there are so many different ways to cook them – and also that you don’t have to cook them at all.

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I love them for being the ultimate sustainable seafood. Because they are farmed, there’s no danger of depleting wild stocks. And while some kinds of aquaculture (salmon pens, for instance) pollute the surrounding water, oyster farming actually improves water quality and thus helps the environment.

Oyster kama meishi

I love the bizarre idea that oysters are “vegan meat.” There is an argument that since oysters have no brains or central nervous systems, they are no more sentient or capable of feeling pain than potatoes are. Thus, they should be considered vegetables for moral purposes.

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I love how nutritious they are. According to the website of Men’s Health magazine, a 3-ounce (85-gram) oyster provides 344 percent of the U.S. recommended daily allowance of vitamin B12, plus 256 percent of the RDA for zinc, 94 percent for selenium and 61 percent for copper, along with significant amounts of other nutrients.

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I love oysters so much that I decided to eat at least 100 of them this winter.

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Photos of a few of them illustrate this post. But so far, I’m only up to 48, which means I need to try a little harder.

I swim like a samurai (and didn’t even know it)

December 8, 2015

Not long ago, a member of my sports club noticed that I was swimming sidestroke in the pool. He was curious enough to ask how it was that a foreigner had learned 古式泳法 koshiki eiho. This was a term that I had never heard before, but he told me it’s the way samurai used to swim. The term literally means “ancient way of swimming.”

I explained to him that I had learned it long ago it from the American Red Cross when training to be a lifeguard. Swimming on your side means that you can propel yourself forward with your lower arm while using your upper arm to hold your rescue victim and keep their head above the water.

This posture has obvious military uses. Also, the fact that sidestroke is virtually splash-free makes it a stealthy way of moving through the water. This is something that not only ancient samurai but also the modern U.S. military has noticed.

The man at the pool urged me to look up koshiki eiho on the Internet. When I did, I learned the term 日本泳法 nihon eiho, which covers a wide range of ancient aquatic techniques. The best material I found is the video at the top of this post, which reveals a startling connection between synchronized swimming and martial arts. Have a look!

Pool review: Genki Plaza

August 24, 2015

Genki sign marked

During the recent Obon holidays, the sports club where I usually swim shut down for an entire week. This gave me the impetus to get out and try some different pools.

The first one I went to was Genki Plaza, a public facility near Shimo Station on the Namboku subway line in Kita Ward, Tokyo.

Like many of Tokyo’s great public pools, it is adjacent to a garbage incinerator. I assume this is because the facility runs off the heat and/or electricity generated by burning trash, but I’ve never actually confirmed that. Nevertheless, just as a tall, thin, solitary smokestack in a residential area usually signals the presence of a sento (traditional public bath), so does a much taller, much thicker smokestack often signal the presence of a public swimming pool.

Past this forbidding facade is a recreational pool with a 72-meter waterslide.

Past this forbidding facade is a recreational pool with a 72-meter waterslide.

The incinerator is just over a block south of the station. The entrance for garbage trucks faces the main road, but if you walk around to the back of the very large facility, you’ll find the entrance to the pool.

The lobby has a vending-machine refreshment area with a big window looking down at the pools (plural) and up at the top of a gigantic water slide. As usual, there are signs all over the place forbidding photography, but you can see official photos of the interior here and here.

Pay 400 yen for adult admission at a vending machine in the lobby, and you’ll get a plastic card that lets you go inside. The card also lets you use one of the lockers.

The locker room floors have plastic pads all over them, but were very wet anyway. It’s one of those places you should wear sandals to, because you’ll never get out of the locker room with dry feet, meaning socks are a bad idea. There’s very little space to sit down. There is a spin drier, the only amenity to speak of.

As for the pools themselves, the largest one is a circulating river pool in shape of an irregular oval – like an egg with a bite taken out of it. The river surrounds an island on which there is a 25-meter lap pool with just three lanes. On the day of my visit, one lane was for walking and two were for swimming. The swimming was one-way, so you had to duck under a rope at the end of each length. The depth was just 1.0 to 1.2 meters.

It was very crowded when I arrived. A break had just ended, and the pool was full of adults and kids. Given the crowding and the shallow water, I decided to stick to breaststroke. I got 1100 meters in, and in that time the crowd significantly diminished. Most of the swimmers were well mannered and knew how to share a lane, but one foolish old man tried to do a one-length freestyle sprint and predictably ran over a child at the end. Oops.

There was a Jacuzzi off in one corner of the facility and an kiddie pool with a tiny slide in another corner. But what I really wanted to try was the gigantic water slide that emptied into a small landing pool connected to the river.

At first I hestitated to use it because there seemed to be no one on it but kids. But then I saw one little girl go up with her father, which made it clear that adults were allowed. It was quite high. The stairs took me high above the river pool, and then past the 2nd-floor window where a few parents were sitting around sipping vending machine drinks in the lobby.

The slide, with twists and turns, is 72 meters long. After doing it once, laughing all the way down, I had to go back and do it again.

Nobody that day made bigger waves in the landing pool.