Hi Hi ........ my ‘real’ sister called me the other day wondering what’s going on with my life lately. She hinted that every time she comes into my blog, it’s all about THAT man! Hehe sorry, sometimes I do get a little carried away. Well, who told him to be that handsome ma?! But honestly I really want to record my experience here in Japan, so while HRH is burying his head into writing his ‘Beauty of Korea’, I should be writing my own ‘Beauty of Japan’ or ‘Beauty of Asia’ :) We know Yong Joon loves the onsen (hot springs) in Japan, so maybe I'll share my own onsen experience ......
The very first time I tried onsen was in my 20s, single and carefree, working on a special assignment in Tokyo. My colleagues were kind enough to invite me to their friends’ weekend onsen outing. Now where we went and how we got there, I honestly had no clue. All I remember was a bunch of us - guys and gals, Japanese, Australians, British, Canadian (moi) boarded this train at Ueno station and pretty much stood at the back of the train car the whole time talking and laughing. We arrived at a quiet town with soaring mountains, running creeks and a main street lined with old shops and ryokans. When I watched Junsang, Yujin & the whole gang went on that mountain picnic, the scenes of the train station and mountain brought back such fond memory of this trip.
The ~10 of us dashed into this cozy family-owned ryokan, girls in 1 big tatami room and guys in the other. What?! No private toilet and bath, how was a girl going to wash her face, shower, shampoo and dry her hair? Well, I was told you were supposed to accomplish all those tasks at the onsen area. I remember it was mid-winter and cold air was creeping in through the shoji paper screen windows. The only heat source was from a charcoal burner under the table which you might end up barbequing your own feet or you just covered yourself from head to toes with a big blankie and drank lots of hot green tea. I went for both :)
My tummy was very much fulfilled when our obasan served us her home cooked ryori in the dining room. The food was simple seafood and tofu hot pot but our hearts felt so warm and delightful. By nightfall, I was soooooooo looking forward to submerge myself in some natural hot spring water! So I had my yukata and happi coat on, brought my big white towel and followed the gang happily up the mountain steps in the dark. Viola, a steaming hot spring surrounded by naturally formed rocks, high up on the edge of the mountain. Ladies and gentlemen, you can’t get anymore natural than that!
The hot spring was lit up by night lights and looked very spectacular. Well, not as spectacular as what came next ...... hey, was I seeing it right? Weren’t those ‘men’ in there?? I meant m-e-n! Yes, without hesitating for even 1 second, my ‘dependable, professional’ business colleagues jumped in one by one wearing nothing but their birthday suits! (maybe wrapped in a towel, I don’t remember) Leaving only ‘moi’, frozen by the sight of this very ‘new & real’ experience. I was faced with the dilemma of simply closing my eyes and join in OR searching my way back down the mountain in the dark, not even mentioning being the laughing stock for the rest of the trip? Well, it would’ve been a quick n' easy decision if Yonsama were soaking in there! But Yonsama was still a baby then, sigh! So the silly me did neither, I just turned around and had my back to the hot spring, sat on a giant boulder and stared out to the shimmering small town below until my friends were done!
Hehe, please don’t feel too bad for me as the girls were nice enough to take me to a private onsen inside the ryokan later for a dip. Actually it was more like a humongous bathtub, but I was happy to be 'in touch' with hot spring water at last. Well, the night was still young for the gang, so the gals decided to go to the guys' quarter and party all night! Since I can't drink, I opted to stay in our tatami room and enjoyed my own companionship sleeping on a futon the first time. I opened the shoji window, looked up at the starry sky and felt the chill of a wintry night. Eventhough the town and the ryokan was very simple, but there was this charm of calmness and quietness that seemed to cleanse your mind and body. Many years later when I returned to Japan, I come to learn that onsen is indeed a very civilized, relaxing and even addictive leisure, just like my ‘chuom’ experience :)
Next .... Hakone onsen (箱根)