Hot Springs and Hydrangea

I have never been so clean in my life. That’s because during Mama’s visit we went to an onsen, a hot spring, in a nearby lovely mountainous area called Hakone. There I took three baths in twenty-four hours, a new record.

The Hakone-Tozan railroad heads back down the hill from Gora.

Mama, Chip, and I took several trains to a little mountain town called Gora, nestled in the foothills of Mt. Fuji. The most fun train was the Hakone-Tozan railway, whose bright red cars slowly but surely chug up an 8% grade with several switchbacks. We stayed at a beautiful place called the Tokinoyu Setsugetsuka which was a combination of a traditional Japanese ryokan and modern inn.

Chip inspects room 210 to see if it's baby proof. Once the tea set is out of reach, Japanese rooms usually are.

Open-air balcony bath!

In addition to our in-room bath, the inn had gorgeous public baths. After donning my yukata (a cotton robe that everyone gets upon checking into an onsen and is encouraged to wear at all times), and my geta (wooden sandals, approximately two sizes too small for my big American feet), I was ready to go experience my first Japanese bath.

Chip was upset that they do not make yukata in his size.

You might have guessed, but the yukatas (and everything else) come off in an onsen. Everyone is Daihatsu Naked. This is one thing to conceptualize and another thing to do. Much hemming and hawing went with the discarding of the yukata; it probably would have been better to treat it like a band-aid and just rip it right off without much thought. At any rate, the cocoon was finally shed and this butterfly jumped into the baths (after the mandatory pre-bath shower, of course). Okay, not so much jumped in as went in tentatively and super self-conciously because that water was really really hot.

The baths themselves were lovely. There were indoor baths with stone and tile floors and walls and an open-timbered Japanese roof, and outdoor baths with rocks strategically placed for sitting and a bamboo screen overhead so the birds can’t see. (You can understand why I couldn’t take pictures…)

I had the outdoor bath all to myself until an older Japanese lady wearing nothing but a shower cap joined me and started to speak to me like I knew Japanese. Not sure whether to make eye contact, I just nodded and smiled and repeated three of the approximately ten Japanese words I know. “Hot! Yes! Much hot! Yes!” I couldn’t stand the heat for more than about 5 minutes so I got out, intensely aware of the jiggling as I bowed awkwardly and apologetically explained to my new friend, “Bye bye! Much hot!”

Inside, I found the less hot, pleasantly warm, and cool pools, all of which I enjoyed much more. After the baths one goes to these little sit-down shower stalls and washes with all kinds of strange products (Green tea peeling gel!) and rinses off with a bamboo bucket. After that one can return to the safe embrace of the yukata and sit at a little vanity and use even more fun Japanese beauty products like “cream which cleans the horny layer of the foot,” and Japanese make-up which made me look like a kabuki understudy.

Dinner was another experience. Mama and Chip and I sat down to seven courses, most of which involved using open flame to cook at the table, which is an awesome idea with a one-year-old. The courses that didn’t use open flame involved raw fish or unidentifiable jellied things, which Mama was a great sport about. I’m not sure what I ate, but the two-hour meal was lovely. My favorite part was the plum sake.

After another round of baths on the balcony, overlooking the mountains and the first stars I’ve seen since moving to Japan, Mama and I slept beautifully on our futons. Breakfast was another experience: fish, rice, miso soup, salad, green tea, and grapefruit vinegar juice all of which, inexplicably, tasted really good at 7:00 am. Number of open flames needed on the table for breakfast: two.

Guess what we ate for lunch when we got home from the onsen: McDonalds!

Gora itself was a nice little mountain town that reminded me a bit of an Asian Estes Park. Mama sat with Chip while I explored early in the morning, and I was charmed to see all of the sewer grates steaming from the hot springs and hear rushing water wherever I went. What I thought was a small forest fire on the hills above me turned out to be a waterfall obscured by the steam it was producing.

Steep street in Gora.

It was a lovely trip. All of Mama’s visit was. Completely accidentally, she came at peak hydrangea time which is quite the spectacle. Who knew Japan had hydrangea? Apparently they’re native. They’re all over Hayama and were planted on the mountainsides above Hakone. When we visited the Hasedera Temple at Kamakura last week with Mama we found it breathtakingly awash in the giant blossoms.

Hydrangea Heaven

Miss you Mama. Thanks for coming!


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Emily
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 14:00:36

    Oh, that sounds like a fantastic trip! I’m glad your Mama could venture out to be with ya’ll.


  2. marion roberts
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 15:28:51

    Your blogs are so entertaining and sensitive prose. What you capture as a mother is what we all have experienced as parents but were not able to write with such aplomb. Than you for sharing your wonderful lives with us. Now if we can get that father of yours off his bum and visit you in this enchanted land he will never forget the experiences. Love you all from Oz


  3. Betty
    Jun 29, 2010 @ 22:15:22

    Thank you for a wonderful trip! At times it seemed as though I had landed in the middle of Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World. The experience was extraordinary, and I will never forget your hospitality. If Rob can steer a ship like he steers the Duet in Japanese traffic, America is safe. Give my regards to Fuji-san, and thanks to both of you. Love you much-


  4. Paula Hatcher
    Jun 30, 2010 @ 17:29:41

    I’ve shared on the fringe of Betty’s experience being a grandma. I knew she’d be great at it! Alden, She loves that little Chip beyond measure. I was sorry to read that her trip (for this time) is already over but I’m glad I got to be part of it at this site. I’ll take her lunch soon and hear more details, and hopefully, see pictures. I think the blow up doll was sent from housekeeping! Best to you, Paula


  5. Anne Bland
    Jul 04, 2010 @ 19:12:12

    I love you all sooooo much and I am so jealous I could cry. Annie


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