Monday, June 20, 2011

Higashiizu Onsen

So this past weekend I journeyed south of the Tokyo to Shizuoka prefecture to the town of Higashiizu; a town of about 17,000. The day started off with a trip to Ikea (or as the Japanese pronouce it ee-kay-ah, which confused me as a town or something before I realized it was EYE-kea). The reason for the trip to Ikea was to save some $$$, jump the free shuttle from Tokyo to Yokohama's Ikea, and then the free shuttle from Ikea to Yokohama-shin station... At the Ikea I grabbed some breakfast, which turned out to be not bad, and the coffee was really great help.
Ikea waiting for the Shuttle Bus to Yokohama-shin
The next stage of the journey was some train hoping to get south to Shizuoka... we were a little held up by taking the wrong train, but cleared it up and only lost 30mins or so. The journey was entertaining, the terrain changed from the flat urban sprawl of Tokyo to the ever steepening mountains to the south. If I was to travel a little more south east I would have been in the region of Mt. Fuji. Its nice to see even though Japan is highly urbanized, its a very lush island.
Steepening Terrain

The station in Higashiizu was quite rural with only one gate, though luckily my metro pass worked all the way south of Tokyo. We found our short bus driver and ended up waiting in the van until the driver knew there was no one else coming (which there wasn't, we were the only people heading to that onsen).

Waiting in the Shuttle Bus in Higashiizun
The first thing you notice when arriving into Higashiizu is these towers similar to old oil drilling towers, but this are markers for the hot spring wells. This region was know for hot springs of high mineral content, so this region had a bit of a fart smell of the sulfurs in the waters. Waiting in the van I noticed the place was very rough around the edges, and would not be the last of noticing that.

The bus ride was a short tight turning journey through the town, which from the windows didn't look overly entertaining with most store-fronts locked up with metal shutters. The onsen hotel was located on a dead-end bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It appears this onsen was an amalgamation of 3 separate onsens. We were greeted by a nice heavyset receptionist couple that told us about the hotels amenities and the times for the onsens. The times were a little confusing for me as I couldn't follow along with all what they were saying. 

The room was much much bigger than I expected. It was a large multi room space with a nice bathroom with tub and shower, an anti room, a reception space, and the main room that included a dining space, beds, sitting area and balcony. The balcony had a nice view of the gloomy day, but the sound of the ocean on the rocks was really soothing. 

As soon as getting settled we were off to the onsens to relax. After figuring out how to put on the robe (which I forget its proper name) I was off to the onsen. The onsen has a few conventions that should be done. When entering the change room you choose your basket, disrobe and put your belongings in basket. Grab a glass of water (which I would find out later why). Just before entering I noticed a elderly gentleman (fully naked at that) weighing himself and I decided to do the same.... before entering the onsen I was 73kg.

When in the onsen you choose one of the many showers to clean yourself before entering the waters. This isn't like showers in public pools in Canada, this is fully outfitted shower spaces with mirrors, an array of soaps and shampoo and other skin care products. After that you grab a small bucket and scoop up some of the onsen waters... you douse your feet to chest as to relax your body to the 'shock' of the waters (as I was told). 

The waters were amazing. The onsen waters were naturally ground heated to 85C and then tempered to an acceptable temperature with sea water. What you are left with is a really smooth feeling water. I boiled away in the onsen for a long while... and then I chose to go outside to the outdoor onsen. I was along and had a great view of the shoreline. The outdoor onsen was much hotter than the indoor waters... I alternated roasting in the waters and relaxing on the cedar lounge chairs.

Lounging I was able to take in the details of the onsen. This onsen had seen some better days. Its obviously the product of the 1980's boom period of rapid construction. The soffit and large chunk of the roof had rotted away from the outdoor waters... there was many areas where the salt waters had not be kind to the building. It baffles my why steel and aluminium was utilized in a climate of salty air and steamy waters. Made me want to think of ways of designing an onsen that can pass the test of time.

After roasting a long long time in the waters I left to dry off and get ready for dinner. Just before leaving I weighed by self again, 71kg!!! I lost 2kg from just sweating and would soon notice those effects, my thirst for water all night was insatiable. 

The dinner was really really good and I ate and ate from the buffet of sashimi and other treats. One of the highlights was chunks of pineapple that I could not believe could be so sweet. Usually I do not like pineapple, but this was almost like eating candy it was so sweet tasting. 

After dinner my friend urged me in my bloated state to go try a special onsen that had healing properties... so I joined and roasted some more. After returning to the room to restock on some water we headed to the reserved onsen room to chill. Was very disappointed to find that the brochure showed a nice view from the room and when entering the room the windows had been masked with film for privacy. We pried open a window for cooler air and found that we faced the parking lot and a giant rusting expansion tank for the onsen waters... 
Natural Onsen Waters returning to the sea
After that roast is was off to bed... and slept amazingly to the sound of the ocean. Waking up for breakfast was rough as the breakfast was from from 7-8:30am... after chowing down on some authentic Japanese and western breakfast treats I returned to my room. My friend chose to go to the onsen after breakfast, but I was too full and slept some more to the sound of the ocean, very very relaxing...

After that we checked out of the hotel and decided to walk back to the train station. On the way we stopped off a souvenir shop to pick up some traditional gifts.  I bought some treats for people at work and for family back home. After that it was the long journey back to Tokyo.

In all it was a great weekend, but obviously too short. I would love to do a tour of Japan's onsens, especially at the right time of year... fall and winter... nothing better than cool air and hot waters. Hope to get to another onsen very soon. 

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