Sunday, July 3, 2011

Hot Soaks & Turning Japanese

Takaragawa Onsen

An Onsen by the River
Can't say I've done much running about naked in a towel around other people since I was about eight, but this weekend we went to Takaragawa Onsen, communed with nature, and washed away a whole lot of whatever it is that ails one in modern life.

Foot bridge that crosses the river

Wearing Yukatas
There is something restorative about hot water, cool breezes, big rocks, summer green trees, and singing frogs. We stayed at Osenkaku, a traditional Japanese lodging  a few steps from the river. We slept with the sounds of the river rushing past through our open window on futons and buckwheat pillows. Probably the best part was wearing yukatas, colorful cotton robes with contrasting sashes, which is like wearing your pajamas outside to and from the onsen as well as for dinner and breakfast.


Making Friends
It also never hurts to travel with blonde nihonjins, as my husband refers to our children. They seem to make friends out of thin air. After our two hour dip in the onsen, we returned across the foot bridge to the hotel when I suddenly noticed six different balconies waving at the Mule- each balcony was attached to an open air room with older couples sitting outside at their tables smiling and waving furiously. They all seemed genuinely pleased with the Mule who happily waved back. She had chatted her way around the sites- the bear cages (rescued cubs from years past), the giant Tengu with the brass nose rubbed a shiny golden color, the temple of kitschy tourist memorabilia, and of course the various onsets. She had made a few friends.

We had decided to go there because it is one of the few onsens that allows for mixed bathing. There is something to be said for a holiday that is restorative. Most of the time I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation, but not onsen trips. I really love hot water.




The Steam Train
The steam trains have started their summer runs. The Gunma Campaign is underway, but getting a ticket proved too difficult on this first weekend. We had to do with taking pictures of people lined up to take pictures along the route. My favorite moment was spotting a dutiful wife sitting on a small folding chair in the middle of a rice field with her parasol for shade along with her husband, the lone camera man in that particular spot, with his ten inch camera lens aimed and primed for the shot- due within the half hour. Seriously, people were lined up one to two hours out in some places. We did pass the train, but it was hard to get a good shot. My cameraman tried.

The Gunma area is mountainous but there are also fields cultivated where the land can be terraced as for rice fields. Most of the shops sold various foods and food products from the area. Our children were hoping to find a stuffed Gunma Chan  critter that is on all of the marketing posters in the area, but we struck out on that front as well. My favorite character is Oide Chan which means something like "come here." We didn't bring back anything to eat, but we did manage to shop for yukatas to bring home for those days when we are State side and longing for a river full of rushing water and a long hot soak- the neighbors will think we're nuts running about in our pajamas, but really, we are just turning Japanese.