the onsen at yugawara

06Oct08

green tea

this was by far the highlight of the trip. thanks to Blake who helped me arrange the whole thing. we honestly had no idea what to expect and what we experienced was beyond what any tour book can recommend. we stayed at a traditional ryokan in Yugawara, which is by the mountains surrounding Mt. Fuji. it has an onsen – which is a mineral spring bath – it is famous for it’s traditional cuisine (especially bean curd skin – sounds gross but its actually really good) and luxurious accommodation. we were pretty much in the Hamptons for Tokyo.

we arrive by bullet train to Atami, then took a local train to Yugawara. then took a taxi to our ryokan, Sansuirou. once we got our of the taxi, we immediately had a bell hop guy come grab our bags and shuffle us to the entrance room. yes there was an entrance room. there, we were greeted by a man kneeling on the platform and does a bow. we were very lost. they gestured for us to take our shoes off and follow him up. we were shuffled into some other rooms and greeted by an older lady in a traditional kimono. she then bowed and started a speech in japanese. we looked at each other and then at her and said in our nicest bowing way… sorry english? shocked at this, she shuffled off to the back and came back with 1 english phrase and shuffled back again.

this place had exceptional service. even with the language barrier. so once we got to the room, she brought out a whole green tea set up with some red bean snacks. she shuffles off again. while Vini was in the bathroom freshening up, this older man came to the room dressed in a full suit. he was the president of the ryokan. he introduced himself and handed me his card with both hands. i remember some drunken conversations with Blake and his friends about formalities with this exchange. i was *trying* really hard to not insult anyone. his english was okay but he welcomed us to his hotel, and just asked us some questions about how we found out about the place, where we were from, and how we were enjoying japan. he said that our chambermaid will be there at 4pm so we have time to enjoy the baths before she gets there. he also said that if we had any problems with anything, just ask for him when we ring the front desk. he was SO NICE.

the baths.
we were gestured to change into the robes they have supplied. now this was interesting. we put on every little piece of article that was there for us. including the funny socks and undershirt. now the question was… do we wear underwear?!? we were very lost walking to the bath and once we found it… which one is male and which is female? we quickly ran in to each and ran out but they seemed identical. so… we head back to our room and call the president. so embarassing. he runs over to our room and personally walks us over to the bath! in the bath, we had to get completely naked and wash off before getting into the hot spring. i think i lasted about 10 minutes. too hot. but the dressing rooms were so fancy, with massage chairs, full make up stations with blow dryers and shishedo lotions. i meet up with Vini in the waiting area and we make our way back to our room. and to our surprise we had an english newspaper waiting for us.

after working on the cross word puzzle for a while, we decided to go to the baths again. the upstairs outdoor panoramic bath was now open for men. (they switch the time through out the day for men and women) this time around, there were other people. so here’s what i learned: 1.) you don’t need to put on every single piece of article they give you, it’s too hot and totally unnecessary. 2.) you’re supposed to REALLY REALLY wash yourself before you get in the bath, like lather rinse repeat 8 times. 3.) you do wear underwear under the robes! it was strange to be around other naked women but they were all older just doing their thing. i got over it after a few minutes. but then again, i only lasted 15 minutes so i was out and back in the room in no time.

the dinner.
at 5:00pm our chambermaid – no english – set up our table for dinner. it was about 13 courses of traditional japanese cuisine. no teriyaki chicken bowls, no california rolls, no udon noodles, this was authentic cuisine. this place is known for the bean curd skin – which is great for me! Blake had arranged a vegetarian meal for me before hand so i was very excited. i was in my robe, trying to not offend the old japanese lady so i sat on my heels every time she walked in – which was a lot. we didn’t want to be rude so we ate everything placed in front of us. i’m just going to post a series of photos below because there’s no way i can describe it.

veggie sushi

my veggie sushi

daikon and fungus... sounds gross but tastes yummy

grilled mushroom

pickled vegetables

we were so full. SO FULL after all these courses. what people normally do, is go back into the baths for a while but i was a bit immobile after eating so much. we watched some sumo on tv, finished our crossword puzzle and went to bed early. that’s right, it’s the traditional tatami style. surprisingly comfortable!

the next morning, we were woken up by our chambermaid that shoo’d us to the baths. it was my turn for the panoramic view! and WOWWWEEE! was it amazing! imagine 360 view of lush bright green mountains right around you. a waterfall on one side. when it’s deeper into fall, the leaves turn bright orange… now that would have been amazing but i can’t really complain. it was the best wake up call i’ve ever had. i get back to the room to find it made up ready for breakfast. again with the courses….

grilled fish

mushroom thing

pasta tofu soup thing

breakfast

and that was breakfast! we packed up, paid our bill (don’t ask how much it was… i told you it was like the hamptons), and wattled our way to the upstairs panoramic lounge for a cup of coffee. we find the president waiting there for us to bid us happy travels and thanking us for our stay. i mean this is unbelievable! he was so generous. after a good half hour of relaxing and living the high life, we decided it was time to head back to reality, well tokyo reality that is.

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