“Thermae Romae”

Discovering things overseas that are similar to our own culture can be exciting.  For Japan, many things have come from overseas, particularly from the various countries in Asia.  Of course this isn’t something special to just Asia, but rather something you can see in countries of the Middle East (excluding North Africa) and European countries near the Mediterranean.  One example is noodles, which originally came from Chinese “rice cake soup.”  There are numerous theories regarding the shape, such as Japanese suiton, Chinese wonton, etc., however, it’s unknown exactly when and where noodles began.  As you might already know, 
the cultivation of wheat first began in Mesopotamia.  It’s believed that this cultivation and grinding it into flour was introduced to China along the Silk Road.  The original shape of noodles from China was also introduced along the Silk Road and returned to the West.  There’s the story that Marco Polo brought back noodles from China and then made Italian pasta, however it’s said that there was a noodle-like food even before that.  Although I’m not an expert on the history of cooking, it seems that because of the impact of the climate and weather in the East (for example, China), people often ate warm foods, many of which were boiled.  In contrast, it seems that in the West (regions close to the Mediterranean) many things were grilled.  It would be interesting to find out if there are differences in the use of flour based on which area they came from. 

Now back to the main topic.  I recently (finally) read the “Thermae Romae,” a Japanese manga (comic) series by Mari Yamazaki.  In short, the series is the story of an architect of ancient Roman bath houses who time travels to modern-day Japan and is exposed to and overwhelmed by the culture of food, shelter and clothing focused around the various hot springs and baths in Japan.     The main character doesn’t realize these “time-slips” and he can only wonder why he is going to the country of “flat faces.”  The story is about how he makes use of his time-slip experiences in ancient Rome.  If you’ve never read the stories, I highly recommend them. 

I have only thought of the possibility of time travel and parallel worlds as a fantasy, however I know that there are some things in history about which I wonder why they exist or which can’t be solved.  There are many theories that have taken shape from the influence of various cultures and over long periods of time.  I’m not trying to pull out an unrealistic story from this, however I think we have to really consider a Platonic mimesis of not only the flow from the “past” to the “present,” but also a flow from “now” to the “past” (by some method).     

Thermae Romae’s main character lived during the era of one of the Five Good Emperors, Hadrian.  “Thermae” means bath in Latin.  According to Nanami Shiono’s “Kentei no Seiki” (Roma-jin no Monogatari IX), to show that it was democratic, the emperor also enjoyed the public baths with the citizens.  Emperor Hadrian is said to have visited the Thermae the most among the emperors.  For ancient Romans, the Thermae was apparently an important place.  As far as using them, there was no difference between rich or poor (however there were differences in facilities and the equipment and things that could be used).  In Japan, we might say it was like a super public-bath-like facility where you could eat, drink, exercise, read, debate, do business, etc.      One theory suggests that there were even beauty salon/spa-like things at these as well.  During the reign of Emperor Hadrian, the most famous bath was  “Traianus Bath” named after the previous emperor, Trajan.  Because “Romans keep work (negotium) and leisure (otium) separate” (Nanami Shiono’s “Kentei no Seiki), the Thermae were places intended for leisure. 

In Japan there are hot spring accommodations (hotels, etc.), however the number of public baths is decreasing.  There are also large-scale spa facilities, but there are fewer and fewer bath houses that we can freely stop by and use.


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