Sunday, May 15, 2016

Adventures On the Way to a Bath

Traveling impulsively to hot springs brings unexpected rewards: often the journey is as relaxing or as interesting as the bathing. I often encounter novel aspects of Japan's ever-changing culture, such as young men doing acrobatic revolutions in the air after jumping on stability balls.

Recently, at Hamamatsu Train Station, I realized after exiting the shinkansen (bullet train) that I had time to kill before a meeting. Over a week had passed since my last bath in a Japanese hot spring. My hands were shaking. I needed to sate my onsen addiction.

Could I locate a bath, travel there, bathe, return, check into my hotel, and get to an important meeting within three hours?  In geologically active Japan, being further than one hour away from a hot spring is almost impossible. And Japanese information centers are amazingly helpful. The bilingual staff in the station information center showed me a chart with information on local hot springs, told me the train and bus schedules, and also expressed their preferences. We narrowed the list down. I boarded a local train that left a few minutes later.

After a twenty-minute ride on a  two-car local train, I arrived at minuscule Bentenjima Station, exited, walked across the street, turned right, and entered The Ocean Hotel, which stands between the train station and a sandy beach.

I stepped into the tatami changing area and saw through wide windows a quintessential Japanese view: A horse-shoe shaped bay lay before a raised highway spanning the bay. Alone on a spit of land stood a traditional reddish-orange shrine gate, torii. Modern-day Japanese cars and trucks slid across the highway. The colorful shrine gate  and bland modern concrete and steel bridge were juxtaposed before the sun-illuminated blue sea. I moved closer to the window, looked down, and saw young men twisting and somersaulting in the air after bouncing off an exercise ball they had partially buried in the sand. "Ah, Japanese creativity," I said to myself before enjoying what I consider to be Japan's premier cultural accomplishment—the onsen.
The worries of work, airplane transfers, long bus rides, computer problems all melted out of my psychic pores and flowed down the drain. The contrast of modern and tradition Japan was right in front of me. I stretched and smiled. What problems did I have? After experiencing the indoor bath, I still had my choice of the white porcelain bathtubs on the deck outside. All this pleasure cost just 1,000 yen to use the hotel and about two hundred yen each way for train fare.

Settled into my clean warm bath with the bright sun warming and the gentle wind caressing my skin, I could watch the acrobatics, fishermen,  sailboats, and light scintillating off the crests and troughs created by passing  speedboats.
After drying myself, I still had a few minutes to try out the simple foot and back massage. I could not resist the siren call of these Japanesque technological beauties.
I was alone for almost all of the time that I made use of the bathing facilities. Perhaps, the sign above kept the riffraff away.

Did I get to my meeting on time? Of course! And my presentation was all the better because of the revitalizing power of the Japanese hot spring.

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