Noilly Prattle: hot spring getaway

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

hot spring getaway

Yojokan, Lake Togo, Tottori, Japan

     One of the greatest pleasures in Japan is hot spring bathing. Japan is said to be one of the cleanest countries in the world. Although not 100% true, I have never experienced a neater and cleaner country anywhere (and I have experienced many). That sense of hygiene comes right down to the personal level, the people are hygienically oriented almost to the point of obsession. Bathing is not merely a necessity in Japan, it is one of life's great pleasures. In the home bathtubs are deep enough to submerge the entire body in warm to scalding water for deep relaxation. Quick showers here border on social heresy.

        In the bad old days when common people couldn't afford their own baths, there were (and still are) public baths called sento 銭湯 or communal bath. Many people still enjoy them for the social intimacy from time to time even though they may have a bath at home. Another type of communal bath is the onsen 温泉or hot spring bath. Since Japan is geologically volcanic there are plenty of hot springs all over the country. Many places near hot springs have been developed into onsen machi or hot spring towns which mostly consist of numerous ryokan (inns). Japanese often talk of the virtues of "naked communion" (裸の付き合い hadaka no tsukiai) for breaking down barriers and getting to know people in the relaxed atmosphere of a ryokan with an attached onsen.* Nudity is de rigueur at Japanese hot springs; one is not permitted to enter a hot spring bath,(whether public or private) with clothes on, not even swim wear. Anyone who is shy about public nudity would do well to avoid a Japanese hot spring. If, however, you are OK letting it all hang out, you will experience one of the most relaxing pastimes I can think of.

Yojokan 養生館

Yojokan 養生館
        Road Buddy and I love to get away to a hot spring once in a while for some relaxation and a change of scene. We recently decided to do an overnight trip to a ryokan on the Japan Sea coast about a three-hour drive north of of our home. It's a lovely older inn named Yojokan 養生館 that has several outdoor baths, some, communal, segregated by sex, and others, private, that couples can share. The Yojokan is very reasonably priced with two meals included in the fee. Our room was apparently popular with writers in the 19th and 20th Centuries. One such writer was Lafcadio Hearn, of Greek/Irish parentage, who lived in and wrote about Japan in the 19th Century. He is best known for translating Japanese ghost stories that were told to him by his Japanese wife. The room is a beautiful old style Japanese room with a huge veranda on two sides of the tatami room that look out onto Lake Togo, which is connected by a canal to the Sea of Japan.

The Rotenburo (open air bath)

blue light, available; red, occupied
bath is 2 meters above the ground
        We arrived around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, had a cup of ocha (green tea) put on our yukata (summer kimono) and went to the small private bath right on the edge of the lake and soaked for an hour or so before dinner. Dinner at a good ryokan is not to be missed although a traditional Japanese gochiso (feast) is best enjoyed when you are accustomed to the Japanese diet since it consists of some very exotic ingredients (from a Western point of view). The presentation is exquisite with amazing attention to detail of colors, textures, odors, serving vessels, etc. Dinner was served by a staff woman clad in traditional kimono on a low table in our room. Later, the table was moved into a corner and the futon (bedding) was laid on the tatami mats for sleeping (after another visit to the bath to aid digestion and relaxation).

Lake Togo and the onsen tub

Gochiso (the Feast)


Daisen (not my picture, mountain was covered in cloud due to typhoon)

Daisenji Temple
cheerful breakfast
       After a morning visit to the bath breakfast was served on the veranda before we checked out and headed back home with a detour to Daisen, an extinct volcano, for a little sightseeing at a temple/shrine complex on the slopes of the mountain.

       There was a typhoon in the area that we ran into on a harrowing stressful drive through very heavy rain before we finally and safely pulled into our driveway with nothing more than a bit of tightness in the neck and shoulder muscles.

Ogamiyama Torii
entrance to Ogamiyama Shrine

rough stone footpath

Ogamiyama Shrine

tree that refused to die after being knocked down at Okamiyama Shrine

*Wikipedia article Onsen

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