Journal 20081005 Japan

The Japanese breakfast was as impressive as last night’s dinner, with an assortment of many small dishes of raw and cooked meat served with rice.

After breakfast, we successfully made a Skype video call to Cress and Nikki. I was surprised how well it worked, with hardly any transmission delay over the 13,000 miles. We had fun showing them our
room, via the laptop built in camera. Funniest of all was hearing Broc parrot off “konichiwa” to us.

We made this a familiar Sunday day of rest, with Madame Oui studying hiragana and I catching up with our travel notes. After a little while, we went down for our first onsen bathing experience. We saw the notes about bathing ettiquette, so we were partly prepared. Fortunately, we were the only ones in each of our gender segregated baths, allowing us to get used to the procedure in our own good time.

Basically, you leave your clothes in a basket in an anteroom, then go into the onsen room where you first use the shower (of tap water, or bucket to scoop up some onsen water) to bathe yourself with soap and shampoo (if desired). Thoroughly rinse yourself, then ease yourself, naked, into the hot onsen.

In my case, I found the water to be very hot. I put my left foot in, and it soon was throbbing numb. But I stayed calm and the sensation came back, then put my other foot in. The height of the bath was just deep enough for me to sit on the floor, with my head sticking above the water. I relaxed and let the goodness of the onsen do its work. When I finally got out, I thought I had only been in for 10-15 minutes, but an hour had elapsed. I felt invigorated.

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Having such a large evening meal last night, and a hearty breakfast this morning, Madame Oui and I hardly felt like eating a full lunch. So we packed some snacks, brought from home, and headed towards nearby Shoutoku Park. It was a small park, but we enjoyed looking at some of the trees whose leaves had already changed to their autumnal hues. We found a bench and enjoyed our little meal. A small group of retirees opened a little shack and set up a series of putting posts on a flat dirt section of the park. We watched them take their exercise.

I looked at our local maps and we decided we’d head for one of the waterfalls. We set out on our way, but soon realised that this journey would be longer than expected, and we weren’t even certain that we were heading in the right direction. Out of nowhere came a kind man who stopped his car and opened his window for us (so apparent was our desperate situation!). He invited us in. He brought us back to where we had come from, which was a little confusing. He left us, and Madame Oui and I argued whether I could read the map properly. He then returned and apologised, i.e. thus confirming that I had read the map right. Incredibly, he offered to take us to the top of Mt Shirane.

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This new friend, Eiji Anzai, speedily drove up the mountain roads, the distance longer than I expected. The weather had already deteriorated, with many cars making their way down. By the time we got to the top, we were in a thick cloud. It wasn’t raining, and we walked up the path to the very top. There was no chance we were going to see the main attraction, which was the acid lake (1.2 ph), but we got some photos of us, including with Eiji, standing next to a marker.

He dutifully drove us back down the mountain and kindly left us at our ryokan. We gave him a postcard and fridge magnet from home, and I tried to explain to him that I would email him a copy of the photo from the mountain top. He was very grateful for our gifts, and we tried to express our gratitude for his kindness.

Back inside our ryokan, we had been told that our dinner would be in a private side room. Madame Oui and I joked that perhaps we had insulted another guest the previous day. But we knew that we were being treated well, when tonight the again exceptional meal was interrupted with two small bottles of hot sake. We appreciated the lovely server’s attempt to converse with us and explain parts of the meal. We learnt that she has family living in London, for example.

Japanese appear to eat their evening meals early, about 6/7 pm. The advantage of this is having more of the evening to yourself, and thus we went out for a final stroll around the Yubatake lake. We went into a local cafe, where we enjoyed some coffees and ice cream, with a great heightened overview of the scene. It was a fine way to end our time here.

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