Making my Way Down South

September 9th, 2017

A truly spectacular sunrise. The photo doesn’t do it justice.

I awake early on my futon in the middle of my Ryokan room. It’s about 4:30 AM, and I think to myself that it would be awesome to go down to the Onsen this early in the morning to wake up relaxed. I push through my drowsiness, wrap up my Yukata and begin to head down to the changing room. Remember, Onsens are public baths, meaning, you must bathe in nude with strangers. As a westerner, this idea sounds pretty odd. I push open the doors to the changing room and… nobody. I had the entire Onsen to myself. Sweet.

After removing my Yukata, the only possession I carry forward was a small white towel. I must admit it did feel a little weird at first, even if there wasn’t anybody around, but at the same time, it was kind of liberating and relaxing. The changing room had a subtle incense smell and a tiny hint of sulfur from the Onsen baths. It smelled like relaxation. Now, in order to enter the Onsen waters, you must first be entirely clean. Just in front of me lie several low sinks, some tiny stools, and small buckets. Soaps, shampoos, and the likes are provided at these little cleaning stations. After bathing myself with nothing but a small bamboo bucket and some soap, I was ready to enter the waters.

It should come as no surprise that cameras are forbidden at Onsens, so I must describe it in text (or you can visit the venues website for photos). The bath itself was outdoors within a miniature zen garden with bamboo trees and small plants. It was still dark outside, but I could see just the faintest bit of brightness in the sky pending the morning sun. I step over the rocky decorative stone and into the pool of warm, milky-colored water. Oooooph…. That’s nice. The water temperature was perfect and contrary to how sulfur compounds usually smell, the very subtle volcanic odor was actually quite relaxing. I quickly dipped my hand towel in the water then placed it on my head. This is to regulate your body temperature. After about 15 minutes in the pool, I was getting a little toasty, so I decided to take it all in for a few extra moments, then left the waters.

I’m not one to believe the whole “Minerals will do wonders for your skin, remove toxins, rah rah rah” bullshit, but these Onsen waters were genuine. My skin felt so smooth and refreshed – it was actually kind of amazing. Almost like I bathed in lotion or something. The sensation was very neat! You’re not supposed to shower-off after a dip in the Onsen; instead, you’re supposed to keep the minerals on your skin to soak in. Within the changing room lie a shaving station with fancy soaps, razors, and after shaves. I had a bit of a 5 o’clock shadow, so I went ahead and indulged. A quick shave later, a little splash of nice-smelling aftershave, and getting dressed again of course, I was back to off my room.

A couple of bird friends having a chit-chat on my balcony. I like the stubby fat one.

A couple of hours later at 7:30, breakfast was served. Again, it was a beautiful spread of various delicious foods. Crab-leg miso soup heated at my table, fresh fruit displays, fancy eggs, cured fish and meats, fancy fruit yogurts, all sorts of little things! I believe it was about 12 courses in all. Delectable! Ryokan food is so much fun because you never know what you’re going to get. Don’t be afraid to try everything, even if it does look a little bit gross. I tried things that visually looked nasty, but tasted very good – and vice versa ;) I’d say that 98% of the food was absolutely delicious, but the other 2% might be better suited to somebody with a palette from this region. Either way, both breakfast and dinner were culinary adventures!

After breakfast, I relaxed a little longer in the sunroom with some green tea and just took in the world. At 10:30, it was time to check-out. As I left, one of my hosts walked me out while thanking me and did not leave until I was out of sight. I love this polite culture so much.

Adorable mascots are everywhere in Japan, even in otherwise conservative Ryokans.

Eventually, I arrived at the same T-line bus stop that I stopped at yesterday and began my wait. I noticed a sign next to the bus stop that outlined all the route prices and cost-per-stop. Well, that would have been helpful to read when I was at Oradawa Station yesterday. 1050 Yen – I can easily prepare that well before hand so no more fumbling for coins. Yay!

Soon, the bus arrived. I took my ticket, stowed my luggage in the back, then just enjoyed the ride. There was no worry from me when it came to having exact change since I knew what the price was going to be ahead of time. That’s something that I like most about this trip. No matter how much you research and prepare, there will come many a time where you are just going to have to be “that guy” for a little bit and learn from your mistakes. Getting through the “first time” is always a struggle, but now that I have that experience, I can perform day-to-day tasks just like the locals do with no problems! I love learning how to cope with daily life here and stowing away the little tid-bits of information to build-up my knowledge of just doing stuff. Doing more things outside of my comfort zone builds up my confidence with living here significantly.

Bus-u, no problem!

My little bus trip through the mountains ends back at Oradawa Station where I must wait for an hour or so for my Shinkansen towards Nagoya. I make my way up to the tracks and begin my wait with a little blue bottle of Boss Coffee (I love this stuff) that I nabbed from a nearby vending machine. At this station, Shinkansen trains “slowly” race by the station platforms. Slowly in quotes, as these trains are still booking it, but have slowed significantly due to being near a station. Here’s a video of one of the slowest ones I saw. Usually these things are moving so quickly that they’re here and gone before my camera app even opens.

Warning, video loud because train:

A little while later, a couple of other travelers sit next to me on my bench. They were a middle-aged married couple from Australia and were very friendly and open to sharing their experiences with me. They had just arrived from Hakone near Lake Ashi. After talking to them, it was clear that they were taking the “money is no option” approach to traveling in Japan. They described visiting tourist traps, high-end dinners, and staying in hotels that were significantly more expensive than what I considered to be my most expensive Ryokan stay. I peer over and see that they’re got special green-car reserved tickets for the Shinkansen while I was merely hopping on to the unreserved ordinary section. Fancy, but from everything they told me, it sounded as though they were unsatisfied or even unhappy with their visit to Japan so far. Sad as that may sound, they were very nice people to talk to and kinda’ made me feel a tiny bit of schadenfreude. Not so much that I take pleasure in these people weren’t having the best time, but the fact that I was having a great time on a fraction of what they seemed to be spending. I don’t know. I felt a little accomplished that I have acclimated to the area so quickly on a fairly modest budget with really no set plan and have been having the time of my life while those who drank the “ultra mega exclusive #1 travel package” koolaid aren’t getting their moneys worth.

さよなら, until we meet again, I say to the travelers as I wish them the best of luck with the rest of their stay. They head towards the green cars while I to the unreserved section. I quickly find a seat and we’re off. You know, the green cars make little sense to me. The ordinary seats are already super comfy, have huge reclines, and have TONS and I mean TOOONS of leg room. Soon, we depart from the station, and a mere hour or so later, I’m in Nagoya. These trains never cease to amaze me.

My visit in Nagoya will be brief as I’m only spending one night here, but my accommodation is very special. I’ll be staying in my own contemporary apartment! I get to see what living in Japan is really like for just a little tiny bit. Of course, there aren’t any bills to pay or mouths to feed (except mine) – ain’t nothin’ in this world is free, but at least I get to see what home-life is like.

But first… I need to find this damn place. If you’ve never taken at a look at Japanese addresses before, look one up. They’re pretty ridiculous. That’s probably one inconvenient thing about this country: their address system is just plain backwards and confusing. I begin my walk from Nagoya Station towards the direction Google Maps says to go. It was hot and humid outside. The hottest I’ve ever experienced on this trip so far and the humidity was killer. I’ve heard weather like this was very common and man it’s pretty brutal. A couple posts back mentioned that I was more than okay with walking 20 miles a day… well, that kinda’ changed after having to walk through that weather while having to lug around all my belongings. Blegh. At least Nagoya was pretty!

After about 45 minutes of walking, I arrived in a sleepy bloc of apartments. Google Maps says my destination lie directly in front of me… but it looks nothing like the photos. Uh… Yeah, after a bit of looking around, this ain’t the place. I have to find a little tiny key-box on some random apartment building in a sea of concrete, then put in a code to get my key. What is this? Lost? Admittedly, it was kinda’ fun to search out this key, but the weather was really wearing me down. After a lot of wandering around aimlessly, I was exhausted and decided to ask a local for help. I walk up and say “すみません” (sumimasen, excuse me), probably the most handy-dandy magic word in the Japanese dictionary. The local turns, “Hai?” he says with a smile. I point to the address listed on my phone. The local quickly pulls out their phone and types in the address. He even tried his best to use English for me which he did quite well! He points me in the right direction and BAM there it is. THANK YOU random citizen of Nagoya, you were wonderfully helpful.

I unlock the key-box, grab my prize after a long journey, then head up the elevator to enjoy the spoils of my trek. Dude. This apartment.

Correction on the video. The little timer panel outside of the bathroom was actually to control a drying fan!

So sweet. I get to live here for a night!! Everything was so futuristic. There were switches and control boxes on the wall for just about everything. You could even dial-in the exact temperature of your bath or shower should you want to take one. From what I’ve read, most of these fancy futuristic luxuries are standard in most Japanese homes. So cool.

If I was going to live a contemporary Japanese life in my own apartment for the night, then I’m going to try and get food delivered like I owned the place. I heard that the Japanese take on pizza was really unique and should be tried out. Alright, I’m going to order pizza and have it delivered here. Delivery address? Erm.. well.. Turns out, addresses here are so convoluted that you could search based on the nearest American Military installment. Yes, no joke, addresses based on American Bases. That’s how convoluted they are. Thankfully, there was an automatic GPS locator that pinpointed my location. Good enough.

In the special instructions, I put the Kanji “Room Number: 501” and within like, 15 minutes, the delivery guy was at the front door asking to be buzzed in. Good lord these guys are fast. I kid you not: Order in, 15 minutes later, the delivery guy is here. I press “Answer” on the rooms’ call box and say “hai!” The delivery man replies, “ピザはこちら!” (Pizza is here!). I press the button on the call box with the key and sure enough, over the speaker, I hear the lobby door being opened. Moments later, the pizza man is here, hands me my food, and bows. NO TIP OR DRIVERS FEE THIS COUNTRY RULES.

Ha, I managed to order pizza in Japan. It’s a silly thing to be proud of, I know, but it’s the little satisfying successes in life. This was actually kind of exciting. After my lackluster experience with McDonalds, I was really curious to see if Japan’s take on Pizza would be any better. Oh man, these guys know what’s up when it comes to pizza.

It’s not Digiorno, it’s ヂリブリ (De-ri-bu-ri)

 

Corn (what?), chipotle chicken, peppers, cheese, Japanese mayo, and served with seasoned potato wedges. It was awesome and delicious – also very heavy and fattening. I love it. The crust is a lot more pastry-like here. Very light and airy. Super good!

From the best breakfast I’ve ever had in an immaculate Ryokan, to some delivery pizza within my own little apartment. Man, life is fun!

Posted in Japan 2017.

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