The new cat
yes indeed, the first thing i thought when i saw the stone people i thought they looked remarkably like your paintings!
yes Mayumi has an iphone and it comes in very handy as a translator and gps device. Its like something out of 24 giving realtime satelite movement on googlemaps.
I wondered how you came by those kimonos. I must say, you look much more at home in them than Mama and I did in our Laurence of Arabia outfits in a kasbah in deepest Morocco where all the fiends were interested in was getting us so shamefacedly in their moral debt we had no choice but to unburden ourselves of hard currency.
Nice photos Jul! liked the one of the noodles on the line and the frog impression is uncanny;-)
Did I spot an iPhone on the table in one of the photos?
Hello all! i recently went on a trip to Ikaho onsen area about 2 hours from tokyo. As it was my first trip to the more rural areas of Japan i was pretty excited. Onsens are hot spring baths sourced by presumably volcanic hotspots dotted all over Japan. this perticular one is famed for its rare iron rich spring. It is said that bathing or even drinking from the noxious fluid can heal all manner of ills. i eagerly awaited my perenial cold disapearing. I feel like numerous uncles from PG Wodehouse who take the waters for their health.
we set off fairly early sunday morning and took a train for a couple of hours out of tokyo. Oddly enough i could not see the transition from tokyo to other towns. It all seems to blur together in a suburban sprawl. The few slightly open spaces seem to have been allocated to growing miles of cabbage. In fact this area was so taken with cabbage that in place of your more standard flower and or colourful plant in flowerbeds around town you have blooming cabbages of various shades green. delightful. we reached a cabbage flavoured town of outstanding dullness that nestled at the base of a dozen or so mountains and took a bus up into said mountains. The view was pleasing as you could see for miles and in the distance, snow covered peaks could be seen gleaming in the harsh winter sunlight.
we were dropped of at a jolly township that looked like it’s delightfully old fashioned houses had been poured down the side of the mountains. it was a collection of steep roads and flagstone steps leading up to a temple at the top of the town. The air was brittle with cold and ice hid in the shadows were the sunlight couldn’t thaw it. After a short period of peering at our print out map and the town sign map and wondering why the two did not seem to corrispond in even a basic sense, we we got lost trying to find our hotel that turned out to be directly opposite were we had been dropped off.
We left our bags at reception and headed out for some food. Mayumi had been recomended a restaurant that served possible the best Udon noodles in the land. Udon noodles are very thick and white and are generaly served in a broth which flavours them as slurp them down. We trecked for about 40 minutes along a winding mountain road, drinking in the delightful ambiance and air of glacial freshness. The resturant was situated in an Udon township of resturants and Udon makers. Clothelines drapes in drying Udon noodles flapped in the crisp breeze. We were pretty frozen at this point and were grateful to enter the pleasently warm restourant. the reception area was pretty impressive. All gleaming woods and pollished surfaces. Some prominant artist had an exhibition there as well much to Mayumi’s delight. After a short wait we were led into an enormous eating hall. Rows of long tables made of slablike chunks of pollished wood filled the room. Everything had a nice happy glow and the sounds of contented chewing.
The food was the finest i have had in Japan, possible becourse we had built up quite the appertite on our little treck. it consisted of a large teaming bowl of unctuious udon noodles, some massive mushroom tempura (battered) and various bowls of strange liquid. The eating method is as follows: You spice the liquid bowls to taste with chilly/wasabi/onions/ginger and then taking a large bundle of udon with your chopstics you slither them into the liquid bowl. once you feel they have cooled and been coated in flavoursome liquid you cram them into your mouth and try not make a mess as you slurp them in. delightful! the same goes for the mushroooms which were big chunky things. like a fist sized lump of lichen. This you also dip into the sauce and munch down once it is saturated. obsolutely luscious! after this feast we went to visit the near by temple (below) this involved another hike up the side of a mountain. very scenic but pretty tiring. At the temple you lob a coin into a box, bang a large bell (presumably to wake up the resident god) and have a bit of a pray as is your want. there were many different smallish temples and mini shrines and it wasnt clear what religion they belong to. It doesnt really matter in Japan. Shinto and Budhism mix rather well together it seems. after that we walked the long walk back to the hotel feeling a bit strained and yearning for the the healing waters. Getting back after dark we checked in. I havent really been at the business end of Japanese customer service and its quite extraordinary. Much bowing and scraping and pretty much everything is done for you. Our bags had been left behind the reception counter and they were taken to be transported up to our room by a tiny old woman who seemed barely capably of carting her own sticklike form around. Mayumi tried to protest and rest her bag from the wizened septogenarian but she was having none of it, skuttling away and out of reach. In the lift up she seemed amazed that we had walked so far, and indeed i had noticed every one was using cars to get around. The room was palacial and had a pleasing view of the surounding countryside. we got dressed for the evening in our complimentary yukatas (kimono like robes) I rather liked mine i have to say but unfortunatly we couldn’t keep them. We then went our seperate ways to the female and male onsens in the hotel. Mixed onsens are not unheared of but not very popular. Inside the onsen there was a large pool about chest high with a raised lintel around the edge for sitting on. The precedure seems to differ from person to person but in general you head in and go to one of the many shower outlets that line the walls of the room. They are those fun hand held showers and you sit on a little plastic stool and wash yourself with the complementary soaps. Some people wash after rather than before and others do both. Everyone is ofcourse, offensivly naked. One can wear a towel, but i asume if you do then you are shunned like an outcast. After washing i slipped into the healing waters. It was lightly simmering, and after a few minutes it unknots the muscles and relaxes the mind. Very pleasent. there were about 4 people and they were all chatting away in a convivial way to each other. After a while the heat gets a bit much and you clamber out and sit on the edge to cool off. And then back for a bit more broiling. After the onsen i felt pretty genki(good feeling) and we had our evening meal. It was pretty diverse with many small portions. Some really tasty and others deeply horrible. The platter of sashimi (raw fish) was good, and so was the nuggets of fried blowfish (which Mayumi assured me was not poisonous) the fish custard on the other hand was an aquired taste, and the less said about the pickled radish the better. I had miso soup for the first time in japan and it was actualy pretty good dispite my misgivings. The tea is also passable. Not unlike the hot water +leaf that is drunk at home. After the meal we relaxed for a bit with a few cans of chu hi. we had sake with the meal but niether of us could stomach its strong flavour. At around ten in the evening we were informed that our private onsen was avalable. This was on the roof and only avalable for an hour. Open air onsens are by far the superior hot pool experiance. It was a bitterly cold cloudless night with the moon beaming down at us and the plumes of steam rising from the pool. Also its never possible to 100% relax when there is a bunch of random naked chaps hanging about and heaving themselves around the pool like a bunch of pink hippos. So Mayumi and i peered at the night sky and listened to the muted kareoke warblings coming from somewere in the building. Perfect.
The next day checked out and explored the town. It was a steep hike up the stairs and in our hunt for the source of the hot spring we clambed up half the mountain. We gave up after about the fifth small summet and returned to the bottom by cablecar. We then went to a farm resort thing. It was mostly closed and a bit of a wash out. At one point some chap goes by leading an enormous fresian cow and telling us the the cow milking school was starting in a few minutes. so we hung about with a bunch of wide eyed japanese people who possible have never seen a cow before and soon enough the milking started. It was pretty extraordinary. One grips the teat and squeezes with the index finger and then each finger down consequtivly in a fluid movement. The milk then shoots out at a high velocity. The strange thing it that the teat is actually hollow and fills with milk after each squeeze. sort of like a water balloon with a small hole in it. the other highlight was an arthouse which unfortunatly was closed but outside had a bunch of strange art including the stone chaps below. After that it was back to tokyo and we met up with alex for a drink at the 300 yen bar. All in all a highly pleasent weekend!