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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Japan Days 3&4

After the whirlwind tour of the long plane flight, the long train, and the non stop touring of my first couple of days in Japan I was anxious to settle down a little bit....but that wasn't going to happen and Im not one to complain so the trip continued via a 3 plus hour drive to what is known as a Hot Spring Resort and a few stops along the way.

The first stop was a close to 100 year old hotel called the Tokai-Kan that overlooked the Matsukawa River.....the hotel at one point was the largest and tallest building in the Ito village and closed back in 1997 only to reopen a few years later as a museum. Was fascinating A)seeing the architecture and B) thinking how this was one of the premier hotels in the area back in day. Each room featured unique artistry with traditional japanese art carved into tables as well as etched into the walls. I opened up one of the windows overlooking the river and wondered how many people stayed in this room through the ages and what life must have been back in the day. They had a hot spring in the hotel and it was amusing to see the elaborate and much larger mens spring as compared to relative paltry offerings for the women spring. I should mention as well that much effort went into using a local tree that while it featured strong wood also bent in unpredictable ways so every effort was made to utilize the randomness of the branched worked into the architecture.

The View of the Tokai-Kan from across the River.

This was actually the entrance to the restroom.  In the land of the small the 5'8" white guy is King.
The hand carved at painted woodwork...each room was unique in theme.

Back in route to our destination I marveled at some of the scenic views offered by the coastal drive that was presented before us. Think the drive through Laguna Beach times pi to get an idea. Some areas were strictly reachable via boot as there were no public access and some of the small islands in the middle of the ocean only added to the semi tropical appeal.

Finally we reached our destination that was the Suiko Hot Spring Inn and it was certainly an experience. While it had all the modern amenities(wifi, Satellite TV, etc etc) it was a traditional hot springs resort that meant once you checked in, men were issued a Yukata and the Women the Kimono.
You basically stayed the entire time in the inn dressed in your issued Garb. To further elaborate, once you made it to your room, you had no more need for shoes as there sandals you would wear to walk to the grounds from Point A to Point B and what not.

Alex and me sporting our Yutakas.

We quickly made our way to the hot springs with my father in law and my sons off to the side for males and the wife and her mom for the females. My sons were a bit apprehensive at first but they realized it was like a big jacuzzi sans swimwear were alright with it. The water was blazing hot as really had to try hard to get used to it and I couldnt imagine anyone could stay longer the 20 minutes or so. Japanese Hot Springs are as such that most comes with showers and prebathing before taking a dip is standard fair. In true japanese fashion though they provide every toiletry imaginable including razors, aftershave, lotions, as well as complimentary ice cold genmai cha tea and spring water infused with lemon. The whole effect largely stems from the view though as this mountain resort overlooked the city and offered a wonderful view. For me, and this may be from the “too much info” file but after soaking in piping hot spring water, standing naked on a bluff of a huge mountain with the ocean breeze blowing on the nether regions certainly offers a feeling of satisfaction.

The next surprise came with the revelation that Hot Spring Resorts are not only know for Hot Springs, but Ping Pong/Table Tennis. Not making this up. After soaking in the spring the family goes into a special ping pong room and enjoy some recreation. Was funny in that we are still wearing our Yutaka and Kimonos while playing the game.

Next event came with the serving of a Traditional Japanese Dinner. And this was about as traditional as it got and while I wasnt so sure of the pageantry and the tradition of the meal, I simply copied my father in law and did everything he did. Will say that the Sashimi was arguably the best I ever had and the roasting of a live abalone over a small sterno cell is something that is probably not offered at a lot of american seafood places. We also dined on a lobster tail....that was cut up and prepared tempura style. Some other meal accompaniments I had absolutely no clue what they were. We enjoyed some beer as well as some cold sake with our meal. Was quite the experience to say the least seeing us all decked in our robes and treated like royalty.

Japanese Combo Meal #5 Supersized

We headed back to the spring for a final dip for the night and almost made quite the foopah failing to realize that they occasionally switch the mens spring from the womens spring as there are some difference in the hot spring and they want all to enjoy the variables. Fortunately, being there on a weeknight meant minimum occupancy so my transgression was minor and my oldest son Alex was smart enough to realize and alert me to the circumstance. After one final dip and a fresh shave, I was ready for bed.

One item of Japanese life has not set well with me is the sleeping on the futon. That is not to say that aren't comfortable.....but all in all-they aren't comfortable. I have heard that they are very good for your back and posture but that is a revelation that I have yet to verify. Good fortune was smiling on me however when my youngest son decided to share a futon with my Wife which meant I simply put his futon on my futon and at least then marginally better as far as the comfort factor.

The next day we once again went to out private dining room for what was to be the traditional Japanese breakfast. Not knocking it per se but the Denny's Grand Slam never sounded so appealing. We made one more dip in the spring and this time was lucky enough to go it alone with no kids nor father in law. The Solace offered by the dip with the sound of the birds and the crash of the ocean certainly was some karmic bliss for my soul as I sat and pondered life.

Morning View from the Spring

We made one pass at the gift shop before heading out and I bought an Item I can almost certainly assume can not be had in the States with a package of Wasabi Flavored Kit Kat Candy Bars. At first I assumed it was green tea but it was indeed Wasabi and on that note I could not pass up the opporunity.

Next item on the agenda was a combination Zoo, Amusement Park, and Sports Park in the area. The zoo was not quite the Scale of San Diego but did have some nice offerings and much like my visit to the Singapore Zoo over 10 years ago I marvel how asian zoos are so affordable. You could feed the animals for 100 yen, or roughly 1 buck, and all of the food was built on the honor system. Put you yen into the can, grab a cup, and go to town. I opted to feed the giraffe as well as the baboons. Have to say that never were a more violent, yet talented animal ever created. On one hand you could throw the cracker to them and they would one handed catch the treat while better throws they could simply catch the snack in their mouths. On the downside, a bad throw meant a feeding frenzy and some of the smaller animals being attacked trying to get the snack. Mildly disturbing.

The Cutest Zoo Bus Ever Created

Nothing quenches thirst on a hot day like a bottle of "Latin Biorhythm Mate"
One from the What the heck file....this is the official spokesmen for a Japanese Cheese Company. I guess maybe they figured the cute teen asian female in pigtails thing had been overused so the mildly retared fat guy with glasses was the next logical step in the advertising progression for asian dairy products.

We went on a few amusement park rides as well and since the mid day visit meant the park was virtually empty we had our pick of the litter. I am semi sure our 2 days at Disney will probably not offer that luxury.

More to come....


Lindsey Gonzalez said...

Sounds like you are having an awesome trip Scott! Can't wait to read more!

Grace Forms said...

You are having way too much fun. Love reading the posts..... Keep it up.