On day 12 we planned to go to Beppu, one of the most popular locations for natural onsens in Japan. Onsen is a hot steamy bath that you soak in, heated by natural ground springs. It's supposed to be good for the skin and body, healthwise. Carey's been to a couple around the Fukuoka area for her school, but this would be her first one in Beppu.
We took a 2 hour train to Beppu, which is on the eastern side of Kyushu Island.
The train ride was bumpy but uneventful. The view was nice, though... we got to see some of the mountainous countryside, and the smaller towns dotting the northern part of Kyushu. I noticed that most of these older houses all had the traditional Japanese roofing. We got to our ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese-style inn.
We picked this one because it had private onsen baths. In most cases, onsens are part of a public bathhouse, split by gender... but I didn't to soak with a bunch of gruff Japanese old men, so we picked this one. Also, it was very Japanese and would be a nice experience.
The room was traditional Japanese; tatami mat floors, low table, no central heating, etc.
The bed of our room is set up at night... in the evening, three little old Japanese ladies will come into the room and pull out the futon bedding in the closet, and get the whole thing set up in minutes. We didn't get a chance to take a picture of them in action, but it was pretty cute to see. Although it was a futon, the bed was surprisingly comfortable. They had these huge heavy duvet blankets that were incredibly warm... although there's no central heating in Japan, they are very good at keeping warm in more economical ways.
The bathroom was 3 separate rooms: a sink, a bathtub, and a closet with a space toilet inside. The toilet room had little slippers with an embossed "W.C." inside that you put on when you use it. Ha, germaphobes.
Beppu is called the "Las Vegas of Japan" in one of our guidebooks... and I could see why: there's Pachinko and slot parlours everywhere, and nothing else. We walked around downtown Beppu and looked for something to eat. It was like a coastal tourist town back home - lots of souvenir shops, lots of overpriced restaurants and bars - a lot of which were closed - and not much else. It actually reminded me of Port Elgin a lot. It must be a summer city, because the place was quiet for the two days we stayed there. After walking around, we decided on Korean BBQ.
After the food, we went home to enjoy some evening onsen. It was great, probably the highlight of my trip so far.
We had an hour, and it flew. The water was so hot it was barely tolerable at first, but once you get in, it's great. The water is clean and always running in from outside... we guessed that they pumped it in from a number of open springs on the outskirts of the city. There are tons of bath houses and onsens in the city... but this one was nice because it was private and we could enjoy it with each other. It's almost like sauna, but better because you could control your heat level by sitting up partially or sitting on the edge to only have your legs in. I went out a couple times and rinsed off with cold water before going back in... ahhhhhh... I could do this daily. I guess this is one of the ways people are able to deal with the high stress and high workload of daily life. This made a lot more sense to me than the “Men's Relaxation Rooms” in Tokyo. ;)
When we were done, we got into our hotel-provided yakatas and headed back to our room... feeling very relaxed and squeaky clean... cleaner than you would feel from a normal shower, oddly enough. Onsen is something I'm definitely going to do again, if I come back to Japan. It was truly awesome.
I hate when Japanese-wannabes wear kimonos and or act Japanese in public - it just seems so fake, like they're trying too hard. Only the Japanese are allowed to be Japanese. We were alone in our room, though, so I acquiesced to Carey's demands for a picture.
Our beds were made by the little Japanese elf-ladies, so we snugged in our double-wide futon bed and watched a movie.
Tomorrow is going to be another day of onsen, then hanging out more in Beppu. We took another day in Beppu just because we knew we would want to onsen more! :)