Lets talk about Onsen.
First off, an Onsen is a Japanese hot spring. I have heard many things about these so called hot springs and their regenerative properties but before a month ago I had never visited one. In my case I can really only describe the Onsen experience as a transcendent one, something that goes beyond mortal words or description and is so wonderful, I wonder if Onsen were meant for this world. Before I get to the Onsen though, I’ll talk about the trip leading up to it. So we all gathered on a Saturday, funny thing is, we all gathered at about 10PM. There was Chieko, our driver, Hiroko, Luke, Keith, Etsuko and yours truly. We had a boat load of snacks and even more uncooked beef, chicken and pork along with some tasty vegetables to accompany the small barbecue that we had hijacked from Chieko’s grandparen’ts house. After driving for about an hour and a half on empty Tokyo streets and the freeway, we entered an ellensburghish like area, if such a place can be so low as to be described in relation to eburgh, and looked for a place to make camp. Our decided location; a parking lot. We couldn’t have picked a better place as it happened to be the parking lot of a nearby park which also had restrooms. So at about 1am we set up the barbecue, cooked up some tasty vittles and ate and drank our fill. It was a lot of fun and the slight absurdity of a whole bunch of japanese and americans huddled around a small barbecue with only the car lights illuminating our cooking proccesses was wonderful.
After packing up we headed to the mountains were the nebulous Onsen were hiding, took another 2 hours or so to reach them. At this point a lot of us are feeling exhausted as it is now about 3:30 am and most of us are running on a lack of sleep. Chieko then tells us that we have about 2 hours before the Onsen she likes opens up, so she says we’ll go check out another one for a little while to kill time then we’ll go to the REAL onsen. I find this idea odd but go along with it. Its cold outside but I’m ready for some hot natural spring water so we trek along a beautiful river where the leaves of the nearby trees are all orange and bright, its very pretty despite the early morning dimness. We hop over a small gate stopping foot traffic from walking across a long bridge, the old people infront of us did it so if old people do it, you can do it too. 😛 Anyway, we made our way through the trees along a trail and I’m thinking, this is crazy. But we finally arrive and its quite a magical place. The onsen is a small pool, built with stones as a base and around the sides like a miniature swimming pool in a peanut shape. A small waterfall is flowing on the other side of it that feeds into the river that is more or less below us, a small shack to our left is an area for people to get changed. So, we threw off our clothes, covered ourselves up with towels and hopped in, the water was spectacular. Of course it was hot and the cold air around us seemed to amplify it, but there was something else about the water that I really can only describe as rejuvenating. I got into the Onsen tired, and left feeling refreshed and very awake. After about 30 minutes in the pool, which I thought was too short, Chieko urged us out so we could go to the next one. After making our way through the mountains via car again, we stopped at a small hotel-ish looking building located more or less on a cliffside overlooking what was probably the same river we saw earlier, but this time it is at a higher elevation and there are a series of small waterfalls running through it. The combination of the falls and the nearby trees shedding their orange leaves was very pretty.
We grabbed our stuff and walked down a long flight of stairs along the cliffside and came at least to the next Onsen, a large pool on a small ledge of the cliff, overlooking the river. Above that by about 20 feet was another small ledge and another onsen but it was covered and for women only. Below the first main pool was another pool covered by a series of rocks forming a kind of cave, and slightly above that another onsen in the open air. The main pool we first saw was occupied by two men, one of which had a ver large and ornate tattoo on his back. The man at the hotel-ish looking building told us to be careful as there was a man he saw with a large tatoo and he was concerned it was a yakuza. Well this was confirmed when we saw him as the tatoo was large, orgnate and covered the entirety of the man’s back and shoulders, common for this type of thug. So we went to the lowest pool and sat for awhile, but it wasn’t too warm so we moved up to the next which was also relatively cool. Finally we moved to the main pool and the water was fantastic. The perfect warm/hot temperature you could sit and be content in all day while the air above cools you off and the hot water warms you up. Mr. Yakuza was very friendly and asked us where we were from and said our japanese was very good. All in all it was pretty funny. We stayed at the Onsen for two hours, just sitting, talking and hanging out. It was a place I can only describe as magical and really almost too surreal for words. I hope I can return to it again sometime.
Today’s Song: 3 Libras – Perfect Circle
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