December 12, 2003

Japan 10: Homeward

It's six thirty on the morning of December the 14th, if you must know, and we're onthe Tsubame bound for Fukuoka's Hakata train station. Well, it's almost over. Glad to be seeing Shirl soon, but sad that it's over so quickly.

And yet it feels like much longer than it actually was. So much amazing stuff. I have a lot of catching up to do on writing this diary. This four hour train ride, and then my planes from Fukuoka to Nagoya, Nagoya to Tokyo Narita, and then Narita to San Francisco should give me plenty of time to make a dent.

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We hiked up Kaimon-Dake, or Mount Kaimon for about an hour and a half, passing quite a few middle aged hiking couples and groups along the narrow path through the trees. Sometimes it was a dirt and pebble gully cut into the soft earth, and sometimes we were scrambling over rocks, up neatly constructed wooden steps, or over tree roots. The path was always well maintained and although it mostly took us through dense woodlands, occasionally there was a stunning view down to the ocean, or inland and the bay, as we wound our way around and up.

As we reached the peak the tree cover cleared, and we were left with spectacular (if a little hazy) views of the entire area. Never missing an opportunity to display our sensitivity to the majesty of the situation, Jon and I had the great idea to get the timers working on our cameras, and perform the coveted double-moon while perched atop a precarious rocky outcrop. Oh, how far we've come from those student days...

Our legs were definitely jelly by the time we came down, and feeling we'd earned a bit of serious relaxation Jon took us to what was my second Onsen, this time at Ibuski. This one was a whole different ball game. Perched right on the coast, in the shadows of two enormous mountain bumps that stood distinct from the otherwise flat countryside, this Onsen consisted of a geo-thermal sandbath.

After changing your shoes for slippers, you're given a robe, and make your way to the changing room. Now, while the way a coat is done up in the West determines the sex of the wearer, in Japan you always want to wear your robes with left over right. The dead are dressed the other way, so it's not a mistake you want to make.

Appropriately attired, we then made our way down to the beach, where an ad hoc sun/rain shade had been erected from scaffolding and tarpaulin, about 10 feet wide by about 200 feet long. Hovering around were about three old ladies in welly boots and with shovels: our sand grave-diggers. They had a few ready-prepared channels dug in the sand, and beckoned us to lay down. They explained that we should put a little towel around our heads like a bonnet, and then bite on it to keep it in place while we lay down. We lay in our shallow graves, our heads protected by the towel, and then they shovelled the hot, damp sand over our bodies, covering everything but the head.

The sensation of heat from all around and weight from above was bizarre, as for some reason I could soon feel my heartbeat pulsing against the weight of the sand in my hands and feet. Once you settled into it, and went with the experience, though, it was very relaxing. So relaxing that the old Japanese guy next to me began to snoring loudly within five minutes. 20 minutes later, we were fully cooked and ready to head inside to soak in some natural hot spring water having rinsed off all the sand. Ah, now we're relaxed!

Posted by mthaddon at December 12, 2003 09:06 PM