This was originally written on 2018/03/06 and is a repost.
Japan. Nippon. 日本.
Japan has never really been a high priority for my list of must-visit countries in Asia — don’t get me wrong, I love their food and culture, I just assumed I would visit eventually so it would get done, kind of like house cleaning, or brushing our dogs.
We wanted to go on a trip after our wedding family and what better way to erase the resentments built up from the stress of planning a wedding than replacing it with resentments that come up from the stress of traveling? So myself, my wife, and my mom all went for a trip to Tokyo.
The obligatory departure photo. Everyone makes fun of it, nobody likes it, yet everyone does it. Then watching the other planes line up for take off.
Toilets in Japan have a certain charm that is lacking in other places. Toilets in Hong Kong generally match the decor of their building, however they rarely have character.
Quick Japanese lesson: “Where is the toilet?” is:
“toi-re wa doko desu ka.”
Don Quijote should be exported everywhere. I could spend hours wandering and playing with everything in the shop, and they’re everywhere in Tokyo. I can’t write anything that hasn’t already been written about this place by better authors but it’s true, all of it.
2019 Update: And now 2 years after this trip, Don Quijote has opened in Hong Kong a branch in Hong Kong called Don Don Donki.
One of the highlights of our trip was Robot Restaurant. While they do serve food, it’s not really a restaurant, however they really do have robots. This place was introduced to me by Anthony Bourdain in the Tokyo episode of Parts Unknown. He had his mind absolutely blown by the show there and so did I. I thought I was prepared for it but it completely overwhelmed me and my senses, it is a live action Power Rangers episode. Pure energy and pure cheese. I highly recommend it, we booked through Voyagin where it’s cheaper than the official website and you can throw in a bento box and drinks.
The low point of our trip was the day we went to Hakone to see Mount Fuji. We were looking forward to visiting Ōwakudani via the ropeway but they were closed due to volcanic activity. This is a frequent occurrence so I suggest checking the status before heading there, at least have backup plans. Another thing we did not realise was that the Hakone area is really large, for some reason we imagined it was like a small town but there is a lot of twisting/turning roads up and down the hills. We spent almost half of our time on a bus.
It was not all doom and gloom however, we did visit Lake Ashi, and we took the sightseeing pirate ship from Togendai-ko to Hakonemachi-ko. We would normally be able to see Mount Fuji at some point between those two places but the view was shrouded by clouds on an otherwise clear day.
One reason to visit Hakone, other than Mount Fuji is the hot springs. We went to Tenzan Onsen to soak the day away. It was was a 15mins shuttle bus ride away from Hakone Yumoto station, and when you’re done, you can take the same bus back then take the RomanceCar straight back to Shinjuku.
It was my first time in an onsen so I did not know what to expect. We saw that there were 2-3 other onsens in the area, accessible from the same parking lot. Tickets from the vending machine out front only buys admission, it costs more for a towel and a washcloth. I had a bit of an embarrassing moment, I stepped in the building and the person at the reception desk started waving his hands at me. I missed the carpeting, the benches, and the shoe lockers on the side… shit, I stepped on their floor with my shoes on. My bad.
After deciding that I will never show my face at this place again, I worked my way down to the changing area. Imagine a building that sits in a valley that has hot springs in the Japanese mountains. Now imagine the inside of that building, a dark, smooth, wooden interior. High ceilings with dim lighting. Smooth wooden floors. Near silence. That is exactly how it was when I walked through.
I entered the changing room and there were naked guys everywhere. I don’t know why that’s a shock to me since it was a changing room for an onsen, of course there’s going to be a whole lot of nakedness. I guess it’s because I am the opposite of athletic, my time in locker rooms is quite limited, so being naked around other people took some getting used to but thankfully everyone minded their own business. After you get naked, you must wash yourself with soap and your washcloth. Don’t bring your outside filth into the hot springs.
There was a booth about the size of a telephone booth (remember those?) with an illuminated interior. No clue what it was, I don’t remember reading about this chamber. I tried flicking the switch, the lights went off… oops, I turned it back on. I stepped in, nothing happened. Strange. I decided to leave it alone but kept an eye on it in case someone else used it.
Outside of the body cleaning area, there were several pools of water. The setting was breathtaking. You can see steam wafting slowly from the water surface, and hear the water trickling down the rocks. It would have been a perfect winter scene if there was snow.
As I looked at the different pools, I decided to jump into the one closest to me. It was so hot, my eyes teared up. After I tried all the other pools, I realised the first one was the hottest one there. I usually shy away from hot baths, can’t stand them, but there is something different about these pools. I found a comfortable spot in one of the pools, and let the heat soak into my body, and sat for about 20 minutes, my heart was pounding. Found a less hot one, and soaked for half the time, pretty much followed this other older man as we went from pool to pool.
After I was finished, I tried my luck with the phone booth machine again. I realised the entrance was actually facing outwards, I opened it and stepped in, I shut the door behind me… warm air rushed all around me and blew all around me. It was a full body dryer! I stayed in as long as I could stand and got changed. There were two areas for a post-onsen nap, there were already a few other people sleeping. We caught a shuttle easily enough at the top of the hill outside the onsen, then headed back to Tokyo.
I was apprehensive when I thought of the onsen, it would have been hot and I would have to be naked in public, two things I didn’t care for but now I will definitely have to visit them any time I visit Japan.