The weather kindly eased off a little for the weekend so I was able to go for a relaxed hilly ride with a few people from the Attic cycling team:
The autumn colours have almost all gone as the trees are getting increasingly bare but it is still pretty pleasant getting out of the city and on to a quieter road.
But this was a small fitness entree to the weekend’s main course of relaxation. Whereas I would have been more than happy to treat Kazuko to anything she wanted on the menu at Burger King, apparently we had to do something better than that to celebrate our seventh wedding anniversary. Kazuko has spent the last month or so studying web pages and holding long consultative discussions with her sister Masako until choosing an onsen hotel in Jozankei that Masako had previously stayed in. In fact, we ended up getting the same room as they had had. Jozankei is a spa town with a cluster of hotels built around the town’s healthy natural hot water. We arrived a little early to check in so we went for a walk around town first. Hotels in these towns provide guests with a yukata (a light summer kimono) and many people see no problem in wandering out of the hotel and up the street in them.
The hotels are all built around the town’s river.
I assume the source of the town’s hot water is nearby as there was plenty of water flowing down walls and also a couple of places where people could kick off their shoes and warm their feet in ponds of hot water.
Being such a watery town, there were plenty of kappa about the place.
People familiar with the Japanese television series Monkey will remember Sandy the water spirit who was also a kappa.
Meanwhile, Kazuko had spied a cat and was trying to make a name for herself as a cat lady.
On the way back to the hotel there was a small shrine where people had tied their wishes to a tree.
Back at the hotel, our room was nearly ready but we had to take our induction course first. Kazuko really outdid herself in choosing the hotel. Everything about it was immaculate, including (as you would expect in Japan) the manners of all the staff. I was unable to walk past any of them without at least one of the great range of Japanese ingratiating remarks. The best one was the cleaning lady who said good morning to me in Japanese, I replied good morning in Japanese and she then told me, again in Japanese, that my Japanese was wonderful. I have no problem at all with false flattery. In any case, we were led to the sixth floor and into a lounge area where we were presented with a nice cup of tea and a snack while the hotel lady ran us through all of the facilities and presented us with our vouchers for free use of certain baths, free drinks and free late-night noodles. She finally took us to our luxury suite. In addition to the hotel’s main baths, we had our own private bath. It looked like this:
And it looked like this with me in it:
The trees were bare on the mountains outside our window:
And our room had a nice large area of tatami mats as well as another room with armchair, sofa and refreshments.
Although an onsen is a very relaxing place to stay, our relaxation was still filled with the very Japanese stress of having many things to do in a limited time. Curse all those vouchers. We headed down to the main baths, which are segregated, where Kazuko and I waved goodbye to each other and promised to meet back in our hotel room. You’re not allowed to just walk into the baths, of course, because that would make them dirty so it’s compulsory to have a shower first before getting into the bath. Everyone is naked but we all have a small towel that we carry with us. Some people are quite careful about using the towel to cover themselves up whereas others, usually the old men, are quite happy to go full frontal. I opt to casually dangle the towel about in front of me somewhere, as if to say ‘this is a token gesture I make in order to not embarrass the rest of you’. Once in the water, most of us place the towel next to the bath but I notice many old men will fold it into a square and put it on their head. I think this is the Japanese equivalent of wearing a knotted handkerchief on your head.
My strategy is usually to sit up to my waist in water for bit, then up to the neck until the extreme heat of the water sends my heart rate sky-rocketing, then I head to an outside bath where the air is cooler and sit up to my waist until I’ve cooled down a bit. Then to the sauna, then the cold water bath, then back to a hot water one, then outside, then the steam bath, back to the sauna, cold water, hot water and finally it must be time to go and meet Kazuko back in our room, where we rested for just a short while before heading to the hotel’s external bath house to use the first of our vouchers. By this time we were dressed in our hotel yukatas and wearing Japanese flip-flips so we could blend in with the other guests. And because they are very comfortable. This bath, segregated again, had an indoor and an outdoor bath. I could hear the ladies next door chatting away but we men are more austere than that and our side of things was very quiet. In fact, I was playing the ‘how do they react to the foreigner’ game. If I enter a bath and a Japanese man immediately leaves it, I like to think it’s because he’s uncomfortable sharing the water with a foreigner. On the other hand, if he doesn’t immediately leave, I think it’s because he’s realised that it would be rude to leave now so he’s forced to sit there longer than he otherwise would have out of a peculiar sense of politeness. They can’t win.
Our next voucher was for a free drink in the lounge of this bathhouse. Kazuko had a juice drink and I had a delicious cold beer served in a pottery cup. And then it was off to a very Japanese dinner. We had a private room and a lovely energetic grandmotherly type as a waitress. Dinner was endless courses of small Japanese dishes. Sushi, octopus eggs (quite tasty), tempura ginger stalk and Japanese maple leaf, sashimi, bits of fried beef (possibly wagyu but I’m not sure) and pumpkin ice cream were just some of the meal. At first even Kazuko was thinking the portions might be a bit small but we went away absolutely stuffed.
Then it was back to our room to open a bottle of Italian fizzy and enjoy our private bath as well as letting the Facebook world know that we were having our anniversary (mobile phone technology, eh?). A quick ten-minute nap to break up the relaxation and out we went to use the rest of our vouchers. The lounge where we had our induction course was now the evening lounge and there was free tea, wine and whisky. I was tempted to pretend I was in a 1960s American movie and throw some ice and whisky in a glass but common sense prevailed and we decided that the wine and whisky were probably both not the highest quality so went for our late-night noodles instead. As if we needed them. And finally we had vouchers for the cocktail bar. Kazuko fancied some Baileys (but not from a shoe – please see The Legend of Old Gregg) so she talked the cocktail waiter into making a not-on-the-menu Bailey’s and coffee while I had a brandy, Baileys and Kahlua concoction. Kazuko impressed him enough that he dished up a further Baileys drink for her later. And as we left he wished me to ‘take yourself at home’. I’m not sure what he meant by that but I always appreciate it when people make the effort to use a bit of English. Anyway, it was back to our room to finish the fizzy, have another dip in the bath and collapse tired but happy in bed.
And before we knew it, it was morning again. A quick plunge in our bath and we put on our yukatas and looked at ourselves in the mirror and headed out.
Breakfast was back in the same place as dinner last night and we got the same lovely grandmotherly lady as our waitress again. Breakfast was another collection of several dishes including the following:
Then it was back to the hotel room for another quick rest. Kazuko needed more for me so I dashed off to the lounge which was no longer the whisky lounge but had become the coffee and danishes lounge. I could only stomach the one danish after that big breakfast but managed a couple of cups of coffee before Kazuko arrived. Then it was back to the main baths where I took my time shaving (face and legs) and managed about thirty seconds in each of the baths before heading back to our room via the coffee lounge. There was just enough time for the briefest of relaxing dips in our bath before we had to leave the room. If you go away anywhere in Japan, however brief, it is compulsory to bring souvenirs back to your work, so Kazuko had to make a quick trip to the gift shop while I was able to squeeze in another cup of coffee. And finally, after an overnight stay of intense relaxation, we were able to have a rest in the taxi on the way back to Sapporo where poor old Kazuko had no time to rest because she had to head out to work in the afternoon. It was a fabulous night away so thank you Kazuko for organising this and for putting up with me for seven years now – good heavens!