Noilly Prattle: December 2015

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Lake Yubara and Katsuyama


Yubara Dam
     There is a dam visible from the thermal pools at Yubara Onsen which make a dramatic backdrop when you consider all the water being held back behind that dam. In spite of the relaxation induced by the hot water there is always that little what if (as in what if the dam breaks) in the back of your mind—not enough to induce paranoia but just enough to give a little spice of apprehension to the experience.

        In all the years since we started going to Yubara we had never gone up to the dam or seen the reservoir called Lake Yubara formed by damming the river. The dam is very high and consequently the lake is extensive. A satellite or map view looks like a monster with a long pigtail. We learned that there is a road across the dam and a long winding road that parallels the southern shore of the lake as well as a nature park. We decided to drive up to the dam and have a look at the lake and do some walking in the nature park after checking out of our ryokan.

Map: Lake Yubara

nature park entrance
and spattered Demi
Lake Yubara
        After a rainy previous day the weather was improving and the sun was breaking through the clouds promising a nice day. We crossed the dam and drove to the nature park which is situated on a peninsula and has a nice viewpoint. The park was deserted and the walking path proved to be very hilly but doable. As we climbed up towards the end of the trail we saw a viewing platform sitting on the crest of a rather steep incline that had to be negotiated on steps that were covered with wet slippery leaves. The view from the platform wasn't particularly dramatic or spectacular, just a nice mix of air, earth and water with an occasional touch of fire when the sun peeped out from behind a cloud. Coming down the wet slippery steps proved dicier than going up, but accomplished without mishaps.

platform with a scenic view
(if you can reach it)

the view from the platform (we reached it)



antique sewing machine
Mickey D inspiration? noren
         After leaving the nature park we drove along the lake for several kilometers and then veered south to return to the Asahi River and along the river to the city of Katsuyama which has preserved an old merchant area. The area is interesting for a couple of reasons: the unique (暖簾) noren* on the shops, and an old boat canal that was used to supply the merchant's shops. The shops therefore back onto the river and front onto the street that parallels the river.

auto repair shop noren

bicycle shop noren

post office noren
tea shop nore

*Noren are traditional Japanese fabric dividers, hung between rooms, on walls, in doorways, or in windows. They usually have one or more vertical slits cut from the bottom to nearly the top of the fabric. Noren are rectangular and come in many different materials, sizes, colors, and patterns. Exterior noren are traditionally used by shops and restaurants as a means of protection from sun, wind, and dust, and for display of the shop name or logo. [Wikipedia]

Katsuyama preserved merchant street

rear of merchant shops on Asahi River boat canal

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Room with the Ultimate View

     “Your room has a beautiful view; depending, of course, on what you think is beautiful,” the room attendant joked as she ushered us into our 旅館 [ryokan] room at 湯原温泉[Yubara Onsen].

        In Okayama Prefecture, a river called the 旭川[Asahikawa] runs more or less north to south from the mountain divide in the north of the prefecture to the Inland Sea. It is a rather scenic river with, Yubara, one of our favorite onsen 温泉 (hot springs) with thermal pools in the river in the northern part of the prefecture. The same river flows through our city and, in fact, you can drive along the river all the way to the hot spring. It is a very scenic drive that takes about two to two and a half hours of pleasant country driving to get there.

thermal pools and Asahikawa, Yubara Onsen
        The unique thing about Yubara is the open air thermal pools in the river that are free of charge and feature mixed bathing, both a rarity in Japan these days. Nudity is de rigueur when using the pools although they are in plain view of anyone passing by. Public nudity is commonplace in Japan in the popular hot spring culture that the country enjoys. Japan is blessed, thanks to its volcanic geology, with a large network of natural thermal springs, and the Japanese have developed a culture built around public bathing. Nowadays the sexes are separated in the hot spring hotels' communal baths. But Yubara upholds an older tradition of mixed bathing in the town-run thermal pools in the river. Naturally, there are many ryokan with their own spas, but they conform to the more modern separated baths. Many onsen ryokan, however, feature private baths for mixed bathing on a reservation basis. 

the ryokan lobby, Asahikawa through the window
        We decided to take an overnight trip for an early celebration of Xmas and my birthday and booked a room with breakfast and dinner included at a ryokan overlooking the public pools—the circumstance that led to the room attendant's quip about “the beautiful view”.


notice the woman wrapped in a special wrap

in the roof bath
        After checking out the “view” we decided to soak in the hotel's roof bath in the rain before dinner. The roof bath is open air and there was nobody else in the men's bath. I could hear Road Buddy on the other side of the fence in the women's bath so I suggested she come over to the men's side since there was no one else there. She did, no other men showed up, and we enjoyed a relaxing soak together until it was time to get ready for dinner, which included a birthday cake for me after the meal.


        It was still raining after dinner but we decided to go out to the open air thermal springs in the river (a must) anyway. The hotel provided umbrellas for guests but, to our surprise, the rain had let up as we left the lobby of the hotel and the umbrellas were unnecessary but we carried them anyhow. There was only one other man in the bath when we arrived so we moved to an empty pool and, being alone, took out the camera and had a lot of fun taking pictures in the light of lamps around the pools. I will say that although mixed bathing is the rule at Yubara, most of the bathers tend to be men who seem to be less shy about taking it all off. Women are allowed to wear a special towel in the pools, although swim wear is strictly prohibited. So, you will rarely see women in the pools in daylight. (We went to Yubara with a couple from Spain last summer and the women were the only ones in the pools surrounded by admiring lads in the afternoon. Naturally, they loved the attention.) In general though, for the ladies, soaking in the outside pools is more comfortable at night. That is why we especially like Yubara at night. It is very special when you are there on a snowy night in winter. It didn't snow this time around, but it did start raining again while we were in the pool. And that is third best. Second best is when the moon breaks through the clouds on a snowy evening. 

under a lamp post - ryokan in the background

Saturday, December 5, 2015

A Pretty Pass . . .

. . . and an up-to-date Modest Proposal (apologies to Jonathan Swift)

duck and cover - c. 1950s
     Shades of "duck and cover" under your desk in case of a nuclear attack when I was a kid in school in the early days of the Cold War.

bullet proof blankets in attractive red - 2015
        Modern marketing, in the wake of mass shootings, some in elementary and high schools, have come up with the perfect solution for protecting the young—bullet proof blankets. It's no longer crawl under your desk children, it's crawl under your blankie. Leave it to modern marketing to find new ways to part the consumer from his swag. “Don't need a new refrigerator or flat screen TV? How about a nice bright red or blue bullet-proof blankie for your child. Your child deserves nothing but the best in the latest advances in child security.”

        No, this alone won't do. I have a much better idea. . . or two.

.45 Cal Automatic
        I seem to remember some rumblings about the possibility of requiring classroom teachers to be armed after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. I haven't heard whether or not that idea passed into legislation. But, in addition to bullet proof blankets for the children, it might be a good idea to have an armed and target-trained teacher to keep the intruders from coming in, kicking off the bullet proof blankets and shooting the kids while the helplessly/hopelessly unarmed teacher can only watch in horror. But, with Ms. Oakley whipping her .45 Cal Automatic out of the desk drawer and engaging the intruders in a shootout over their heads, the children would be safely huddled under their bullet proof blankets while sharpshooter Ms. Annie dispatches the perps, blows the smoke from the business end of her .45 and calmly continues the Math lesson.

        For real protection for the children, however, bullet proof blankies and sharpshooter teachers are not enough. And here, I'm sure the NRA will be in full 100% support of this idea. In the classroom the armed teacher and bullet proof blankies might turn the trick, but what about on the playground, or walking to and from school or in the school bus? Bullet proof vests are not practical in these non-classroom venues. And unless the teachers are packing heat on their hips, the playground is open territory for would be terrorists. You could arm the school bus drivers on school buses, but it's pretty hard to have a shootout while driving and, anyway, lots of kids (without their bullet proof blankies) would be caught in the crossfire.

Colt Peacemaker Caliber .45
        The logical thing, obviously, is to arm the children themselves for their own self-protection. The Second Amendments rights of adults to bear arms should be extended to the children. Of course, children should not carry weapons without knowing how to use them. Therefore, mandatory target practice must be added to the PE program in all schools from K through 12. All the children would receive a nice Christmas present of a child size working replica of the Colt .45, a hand tooled leather holster to keep it in and a green beret in the same year as they receive their proficiency-with-the-weapon certificate. I would dare any terrorist to set foot in that classroom!

        This idea may sound a bit bizarre, but I'm willing to bet that modern marketing can make this seem the greatest idea since sliced bread. It's all in the packaging. And think of the boon to the arms manufacturers' profits and those of the target-range construction industry and gun shooting trainers. I see a goldmine here. Then we can all sleep peacefully with thoughts of sugar-plum fairies dancing in our heads.