Monday, June 23, 2008

Ryokan in Hakone National Park

Like I said it just gets better and better. We had to say goodbye to our families on Sunday afternoon. We were dropped off at 4:00 and we heard from the Superintendent of the Inagi Schools, Sachie Matsuozawa. She was instrumental in arranging the school visits, home visits, and all of the wonderful things we did during our Inagi stay. We truly can't thank her enough!It was sad, but we were all flying high from the wonderful experiences we had. Everyone did different things, stayed with different family make ups, and in different types of homes. The one thing we had in common was that we agreed it was an incredible time! The superintendent knew we were headed to Hakone, and reminded us to noticed the beautiful hydrangea which are the most beautiful during the rainy season. We then started our trip to Hakone National Park and the ryokan where we would be spending the night. The joke in our group is that Oka-san always says the trip will take about 30 minutes no matter where we are headed. This time she said, "It will not take 30 minutes." It took about 2 hours. The only downside was that the rain finally caught up with us, so seeing Mt. Fuji was not going to happen. Ah well, I have two fantastic photos of it from someone who did see it! While on the bus Oka-san explained that the rooms are all tatami mats, and we should not wear slippers on the tatami. We were to put on our yakata (summer kimono) and meet for dinner at 7. The rooms were gorgeous! Cari, Cindy, and I shared the room. The guys REALLY loved the yukata. I wasn't sure they were going to wear their regular clothes home. Here is Oka-san with the coat that you could wear if you were cold. I was too warm, and all the eating I do makes me sweat. I'm very glad I haven't seen a scale in a while. We had low tables set with a ton of Japanese food. I figured that was the meal. No! The food just kept coming. We had shabu shabu, which was boiling water where we cooked our own meat and vegetable. They also lit a fire under the rice, and when our fire went out, the rice was ready to eat. I can't tell you what everything was, and quite frankly, I probably don't want to know what everything was. But, it was delicious. I was hoping someone would come along and massage my stomach so I could just continue eating.
We had plum wine, cold sake, warm sake, and many different kinds of soft drinks. We also had the use of a karaoke machine for two hours. So of course, we sang our hearts out.
We kept trying to get Oka-san on the stage, but she wasn't very cooperative. However, she did treat us to a song at the end of our time. Then it was time for the hot springs bath. Yes, this is the traditional communal bath with girls on one side and boys on a different side. Totally different rooms actually. First you have to completely wash yourself in a big open room - locker room style. Once you are completely cleaned and rinsed you enter the hot springs bath. The water is naturally heated in the earth and is often about 42 degrees Celsius. You enter sans clothing. It sounds a bit intimidating, but actually you just get in and forget that everyone is bare! No pictures for this part of the tour! You can only stay in for a short while at a time. Oka-san said someone stayed in too long the last time and fainted. When I started feeling a bit light headed it was time to go. I did some email and hit the sack. Oh, I forgot to mention that while we were eating, the hotel fairies came in and laid out our beds. I was pretty tired after the dinner and the soak, so it was time for bed. I slept very well. There was a waterfall and a rushing river outside our room, so we left the window open to hear it. The futons were so comfy that I chose to sleep in instead of going back to the hot springs bath. Instead, I chose to soak in the tub in our room. Notice there is a separate shower to wash BEFORE you enter the tub. The tub is just for soaking. Japanese families share the soaking water. The tub will often have a heating element in it to keep the water hot. We met at 8 for our last meal on the road.
Today we returned to Tokyo. Things are winding down, and it's sad to think that in a couple of days we won't see the people that have become our family in Japan.


Anonymous said...

Wow, the ryokan sounds like my kind of vacation!! The hot springs bath sounds so-o-o relaxing. What an amazing experience you're having! Don't worry about eating a lot; it's all healthy vegetables and fish, so you've probably lost weight.

Looking forward to hearing more about your trip when you get back to Wisconsin!

Jill said...

Gosh, it's nice that you were able to stay in a traditional Japanese room before you left. I was wondering if you'd had the opportunity to stay someplace where they had tatami mats on the floor, futon mattresses for beds and an ofuro (soaking tub) in the bathroom. There's just something about that atmosphere that I find very appealing. Some how the simplicity of it all makes me feel very relaxed and centered. It's kind of great, don't you think?
And I enjoyed Oka-san's song, btw. I recognize it from my childhood, although I don't know why I know it. I'm thinking they must have played it at the Japanese festivals we went to when I was a kid. As with many of the things you've been writing about, it's brought back a lot of fond memories. :) ...sigh