Tag Archives: Onsen

Water Everywhere

Back in Japan, I met my sister-in-law’s folks at Omiya Station where they handed off my nine-year-old nephew.

Hiromi handed me an envelope “for emergencies.”  Did it contain cash?  One-way tickets back to Tokyo?   An inspirational saying?

At the last moment, Fred pulled out a route map and suggested we take a different route to Shimoda than the one Google recommended; the one that had made me cry in exasperation the night before.  I could almost hear my blood pressure spiking.  Getting lost on my own was stressful enough.  The prospect of getting lost with my nephew was unbearable.

Fred handed me a pack of postcard prints of his paintings, which I tucked into a backpack pocket along with the emergency envelope.

“Bye!” we all waved farewell. “Listen to Anne san!” Fred called after Charlie as we dove through the turnstiles and on toward the platforms.

“Are we gonna take grandpa’s way, or the way we talked about last night?” Charlie asked as he trudged along behind me with his roller bag and gigantic backpack.

“We’re gonna stick with the plan,” I replied.

And we did.  I had a moment of indecision in Yokohama but after a quick consultation with Charlie found the platform for the Super Okidoro train.  It’s not a shinkansen but it’s very nice, with windows that arched over our heads so we got panoramic views.

I was thrilled that Charlie appreciated the scenery.  “Look, Auntie Anne!  The ocean!” he exclaimed.  I had expected him to be jaded, now that he was almost 10.

In a couple hours we reached Shimoda, on the tip of the Izu peninsula.  This had not been mentioned in any tourist books or websites; I was only here because the in-laws recommended it.  From the station, we caught a local bus to our hotel.  It was a bit frantic because we had to have exact change and Charlie was slow getting his together.  Not for the first time, I checked myself from grabbing his money and saying, “Here, let me do it!”

As I wrote previously, our hotel room was a lovely traditional Japanese room.

And fantastic views.

As I’ve also whined about previously, it only had internet in the lobby and near the elevators.

This turned out to be okay because we might have otherwise spent a lot more time in the room, especially since it rained almost the whole time.

We wandered around the hotel to check out the features.  It appeared we were the only guests.

There were male and female onsens and a family one, also with beautiful views.

I would have loved to have partaken but I wasn’t going to leave my nephew alone in a male onsen, and I wasn’t going to bathe naked with my nephew in the family onsen.  It turned out that the hotel charged 2000 yen per person (about $18) to use them, so that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

There was an entire floor of weird Korean saunas.  These were large rooms with wall-to-wall layers of gravel on the floors and wooden benches lining the walls.  The lights were off so I couldn’t take a picture, and I can’t find any photos online so I wonder if I imagined them.

Back in the room, I felt the need for a hot shower.  I ran the water.  And ran it, and ran it … then went down to the lobby to say our room had no hot water.  They explained that it took at least 15 minutes for hot water to reach us on the second floor.

While I waited I puzzled over the crotch-level mirror.  My sister-in-law later enlightened me, “This is for when you are seated on the stool to wash yourself before you get into the tub.”

And the retractable cover over the tub?  That’s so you can keep the water warm for the next person.  It reminds me of the pioneer days in America when the whole family used the same bath water.  Ick.  But in Japan, no one gets into a tub until they’ve scrubbed and rinsed from head to toe.  The tub is not for cleaning, only relaxing.

I still want to go first.

I’m Here

Here I am—yoo-hoo—over here!  Way over here, in Japan.

The 11.5 hour flight was uneventful. I watched five movies, ate three meals, and slept for five minutes.  Every once in a while I glanced back between the seats at my five-year-old nephew, and he was only sleeping once.  The rest of the time, he was hunched up like little kids do when they’re jazzed, his black eyes twinkling with excitement. He and his brother are now attending kindergarten and fourth grade, respectively, in local Japanese schools for two weeks.

I had brought my full-size smushy pillow, and it made all the difference in comfort to be able to lean against the window with some padding.

I had a bit of a rocky start in Tokyo.  My cell phone wouldn’t charge, then died.   I walked in circles for almost an hour trying to find my hotel.  The “tower view” I’d paid extra for was a view of a brick wall, and no one at the front desk spoke enough English for it to be worth my while trying to explain it.  When I logged into my credit card account there were a slew of charges from a company I’d never heard of.

Thank god I’d brought my laptop!  How else would I have been able to find an Apple Store in Tokyo?  The folks at the front desk knew only enough English to point at a map handout (all in Japanese except the name of the hotel), to show me how to get to a local train station.

All is well now.  My experience at the Apple Store was delightful.  My Restless Legs disappeared completely for three nights!  I can only guess that my brain thought nighttime here was daytime due to the 14-hour time difference, and I never get RLS during the day.  It’s back now, bad as ever.

I spent two full days in Tokyo, then moved on to Nikko, a small city in the north.  The advertised reason to come here is to visit the shrines dedicated to the first shogun, Tokugawa, and others.  They are amazing, but the delight for me here has been nature and food.

This was my first meal here; a bento box featuring yuba, a local specialty that is soy rolled out paper thin then rolled up into pinwheels.

Here is a photo from a walk I took yesterday along the Tamozawa River.

You could look at this and say, “Hey, this looks just like the Knife River on the North Shore near Duluth!  Why go thousands of miles away when you can drive two hours and see similar scenery?”

And you would be right, to a point.  I love the North Shore and fully intend to go there this summer, too.  But it doesn’t have red painted sacred wood bridges that are hundreds of years old, or stone bodhisattvas wearing red knitted caps and bibs.

It was on this walk—on my fourth day after arriving—that I felt myself come down off the ledge of worry about my phone, my credit card, finding stations and getting on the right trains….  This is often the way when I travel.

After my two-hour walk I hit the main shrine, which involved another half hour hike up a very steep incline followed by 200 steps where I passed people literally bent over double and clutching their chests.

At the top, in the Temple of the Crying Dragon, I was basically accused of shoplifting a lucky talisman.  Thankfully I was too tired to come out swinging, which would be my usual response.  But I left in a huff wishing bad karma on a Buddhist.  More on that later.

I consoled myself with a bowl of yuba ramen.

I returned to my inn and soaked in the onsen, or hot spring bath, which is 10 steps from my room.  Yes, you do it naked.

As I sat on the edge of the pool and gazed out the window I saw there was a stone Buddha in the bushes.  I could just make out his big fat belly … wait—I was looking at my own reflection!

Dang, guess I better watch it with the giant ramen bowls.