Mini-blog: Onsen and Mt. Fuji
Over dinner one night, a work colleague from the Tokyo office raved about this little-known (albeit, little known on the Western tourist circuit — but, hugely popular to the locals) onsen-hotel about 1 hour outside the city. He told us that this hotel was built during the 1980s property boom and as such, no pennies were spared to make this hotel fabulous. Each guest room faced a lake or water-feature and these were stocked with the largest and most colorful koi fish. Furthermore, a water channel ran thru the hotel lobby and walkways and these water channels teamed with these prized fish.
Intrigued by his recommendation, we could not resist. As the reservation staff did not speak English, our friend helped us with the booking. Once it was all sorted, we hopped onto a train. (Our friend also gave us a card with the hotel address written in Japanese so that we could give it to the taxi driver at the train station.) To this day, I still don’t know the name of the hotel or the exact location. But, I do have a brochure which I’ve scanned below:
The hotel did not disappoint! It was concurrently modern yet traditional. The rooms were luxuriously simple, minimal, and neutral. We had a little balcony which overlooked a man-made lake with a waterfall feature. It was joyous to sit in the quiet with nothing but gurgling water sounds humming in the air. To help us further unwind, we booked an in-room massage. The masseuses came to our suite and set up (surprisingly comfortable) straw mats on the floor. Despite the fact that both masseuses were tiny ladies, they had powerful hand and arm strength and thus did a commendable job! (I still recall with a smile on my face about the time one of the masseuse started to giggle — it turned out that she was amused with the hair on Bruce’s arms. They were sooooo blonde and the masseuse was not accustomed to seeing such blonde hair!)
Another great way to unwind was to visit the onsens (hot natural spring baths). The normal practice to bathing in an onsen is to bathe in the nude. Each onsen had a shower facility next to it and it was mandatory that you shower first before getting into the pool. There were multiple hot thermal pools — some were hotter than others so it was not unusal to see people hop from one pool into the next and then alternate. Also, the onsens were segragated by sex so one could bathe in relative peace. The outdoor onsens had bamboo screens to separate the sexes as well as to provide privacy. But, despite the bamboo screens, I saw pervy old men trying to sneak a peak into the ladies pools! (For complete privacy from the opposite sex, there were indoor onsens.)
That evening, we had a traditional meal which was served in our room. The staff came in and set up a small table for us. The convention was to eat kneeling or sitting on our backside on cushions on the floor. We each had a large tray of food comprising of approximately 15 little dishes. We had: miso soup, pickled vegetables, sashimi, rice, cooked fish, a rich and well stewed piece of meat, and many others that I cannot remember. Succinctly, it was exceptional!
Breakfast was served in the main eating hall. Despite the fact that I ate everything on my tray the night before (and was very full), I was quite hungry the next morning. So, I was thrilled when my breakfast was served — sashimi, rice, soup, and pickled vegetables. But poor Bruce — he is at his most conservative when he is at breakfast — and his face fell when more raw fish was presented to him. He was clearly craving eggs, bacon and sausages! Despite the fact that we were the only Westerners at this hotel-onsen, we spotted what we thought was a “Westerner’s table” as it had yougurt and a basket of eggs. Bruce picked up a pot of yougurt and a few eggs. And, as he was cracking the egg shell, he mused that it would be really funny if these eggs were raw. THEY WERE! It turned out that the eggs were for the hot soup — it was customary to pour the contents from the egg into the soup and the residual heat in the soup would cook the egg. There were no Westerner’s breakkie for Bruce ….
Despite the rough start of the day (for Bruce), we had a cracking great day! It turned out that the hotel was near Mt. Fuji. (We found this out during check-out when we noticed adverts for Mt. Fuji tours at the reception table.) Despite the fact that neither of us could speak Japanese and none of the staff could speak English, we somehow managed to communicate to the hotel staff that we wanted to visit Mt. Fuji (but not with a tour group). What the hotel staff did next was truly remarkable. They had a long chat with the taxi driver who took us to the train station. Once there, the taxi driver got out and found the station manager. He passed on the instructions to the station manager who then collected us and told us where to wait. When the right train arrived, the station manager made sure we got on. He then spoke to the train ticket collector and train supervisor. The ticket collector then kept an eye on us and made sure that we got off at the right spot. When we got off, the ticket collector signalled to someone on the platform to escort us to the Mt. Fuji train. And, from there, we had to connect with a bus to get to Mt. Fuji. The kindness and care of the ordinary Japanese bestowed was wonderful — we would have an ‘interesting’ time had we tried to do this ourselves!
The funny thing about Mt. Fuji is that we all know that it is large, but, we really didn’t know how large it really is. When we were on the train, we kept seeing magnificently large peaks and we would proclaim that it was Mt. Fuji. Until that is, we saw something larger. Then we would proclaim that ‘that one’ must be Mt. Fuji. Until we saw something larger. And, larger. And larger. The truth is, Mt. Fuji is visible from a plane. So, none of the ‘large’ mountains could compare to Mt. Fuji. In a nutshell, Mt. Fuji is monsterously large. And well worth the visit — even if for a short trip such as ours.