This morning after breakfast we hit the hot-spring bath again. There are two separate baths in our ryoken that run 24 hours, pumping in hot spring water from what I expect to be some nearby volcanic mountain.
There is a system to this bathing ritual and it is much different than what we do back west. It is more of a social thing – somewhat communal. First thing you do is strip down and get yourself wet by dumping pails of hot water over yourself – you can sit on this little bench and use the wooden bucket to get yourself all wet. Then you lather up with a round of exfoliants, scrub brushes, oils, tonics, shampoos and soaps. Then pour buckets of hot water all over yourself again until you are rinsed clean. This all takes place in a steamy warm low-lit room with a series of taps pumps and gadgets on timers. There is a wooden floor that takes away all the water you are throwing around. After this part you get into the actual bath and soak away for as long as you can put up with the heat. Some have cold spouts that pour cooling water into the hot steamy waters below. You use the wooden pail to fill up large amounts of cool water to pour over your head to avoid heat-stroke and instead induce cold-shock cardiac arrest.
This is all very cathartic and invigorating.
There are 20 different qualities of hot springs in Hakone, we are in the Miyanoshita hot springs. One of 17 different ones in the Hakone region. Hot-spring water is sourced from deep portions in the volcanic craters outer rim. It is believed that soaking in such springs will burn as many calories as taking a walk.
Since we got here we haven’t been wearing any of our own clothes. Kimonos, pyjamas, sandals, and split-toed white sockets are all supplied and expected to be worn. You wander around the grounds in essentially your underwear and sock feet. It all seems rather amusing at first but gets to be second nature pretty fast once you realize how comfortable everything is – think of it like having a three-day pyjama pool party with catered sushi and hot sake.
Three different types of loose green tea are on hand here and we keep drinking it. The kettle is on almost every half hour. The green tea here is served more concentrated than china – it is usually bright green and has lots of sediment in the bottom – almost like a matcha. Oolong, a darker peaty tea is served after dinner – neither of us like it much. Needless to say we will be bringing back lots of tea.
It is raining excessively today and Daniela is a bit restless. We are currently sitting outside in robes looking out into the garden and listening to the hot springs gurgle and watching the cold rain pelt into the one half of the pool that is exposed. The pool is steaming nicely and once you get out it is not unlikely that you will want to go back in shortly thereafter.
There are no beds here, just white cotton pads that get rolled out onto the woven bamboo floors to sleep on. The table we sit at is a full-sized one for four people but it is low-sunk into the floor and has four chairs with no legs that you sit on. Your feet go underneath (lower than the floor) and rest on hot marble stones to keep you warm as you eat or drink tea. It makes it hard for a fat guy like me to get up and out of – and while wearing an open front robe it can all too quickly get very pornographic.
The kimono girl is here again milling about from room to room sliding walls around and fixing things. Once she leaves I will hit the spring again and then get my go out in public kimono on with match in blue sash and white sockets. You must make sure you tie up your kimono with the outside flap to the left. Apparently if you do it to the right it means you are dead and ready for the crematorium (which by the way is mandatory here).
After a hot bath we will head up to the lounge and do some reading, watch the fish in the two large tropical aquariums (another Japanese art form I love). It is 10:30 am here and we have been up for over three hours – damn I wish we could stop time for a day or two.