Noilly Prattle: Getting Reacquainted 19 – Japan's (and our) love affair with hot springs

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Getting Reacquainted 19 – Japan's (and our) love affair with hot springs

I hate driving through long tunnels - this one 7km. long
     After checking out of the, believe it or not, budget Grateful Hotel (couldn't help but being reminded of the “Grateful Dead” rock band), we spent most of the morning and early afternoon high-balling it to the Kagoshima Airport to meet our son who was flying in from Tokyo.

       We were to spend the next two night at hot spring inns (ryokan 旅館) that were more pricey than budget hotels, but well worth the price in terms of relaxation, comfort and pampering.

our private and quiet detached house in Kirishima
       A word about the hot spring culture in Japan. Most visitors to Japan are impressed by the neatness and cleanliness of the environment and the politeness of the people. This is not a myth but a reality. Japan is a very clean country and the people are invariably polite, even to a fault. This is not to say that there is no rude and common side to Japanese culture, but one has to live here long enough to perceive it. First-time visitors to Japan will be smothered in politesse. The hot spring inn combines the best of both politesse and cleanliness. It is probably the ultimate experience if one wants to experience the real Japan, ideally speaking.

natural garden and hot spring tubs from living area
       We met our son at the Kagoshima Airport and proceeded to Kirishima, a half hour drive from the airport. We had reserved rooms with their own hot spring tubs for two nights in contrasting locations: one in the mountains and one by the sea. The first one was in the town of Kirishima in Kyushu. It was a detached house nestled in the natural surroundings of a mountainous region. It was isolated and completely private with two inviting stone hot tubs in the garden that were visible through a huge plate glass window. Inviting as the tubs were, however, we decided to do a little exploring in the area, where we were told that there was a beautiful waterfall.

        While walking up from the inn, which was nestled in a little hollow valley, we saw steam and water bubbling out of the ground. 

steam coming out of the ground
        The area is an active seismic area with active volcanoes and hot water and steam literally coming out of the ground. After some “oohing” and “aahing” and a few “Wows! “ we found our way to the promised waterfall. It wasn't Niagara, but impressive enough for something you can see from the roadside. After seeing the waterfall, the lure of the hot tubs called us back to our hidden cottage in the woods.

relaxing soak before dinner
full course Japanese style dinner included in fee
        A sumptuous Japanese style dinner is always included in the ryokan fee so that, if you consider the meals included (dinner and breakfast), the overall cost isn't so much different from some four- or five-star Western hotels. After a relaxing soak in the hot spring tub it's time to go down to dinner where you are treated like royalty in your own private dining room. Let the food and the sake flow and you will feel quite mellow—guaranteed.

        Our hideaway in Kirishima had the extra-added charm of a little room with an old-fashioned fire pit. Comfortably dressed in traditional sleeping kimonos, it was perfect for a little more après-dinner sake, schmoozing and some sweet bean cakes grilled right over the charcoal to put a nice cap on the evening. And a prelude to a moonlight soak under the cherry tree in the garden.

moonlight soak
morning rain
        In the morning, and you couldn't ask for more, it was raining. It was perfect for a morning soak in the hot tub in the rain.

        Before bidding farewell to the gods and myths of Japan the next day, we stopped off at Kirishima Shrine. This shrine is dedicated to Ninigi the grandson of the sun goddess. In the Kojiki, Ninigi is said to have descended from heaven in this area bringing with him the sword, the mirror and the jewel—the so called “Imperial Regalia” of the Japanese emperors. Ninigi became mortal, married a local princess and sired the line of Japanese emperors who, through Ninigi, claim an unbroken lineage from the goddess Amaterasu. Not bad to have a sun deity for an ancestor.

Kirishima Shrine
wedding at Kirishima Shrine--
dressed in traditional wedding garb

To be continued...

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