Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Japan Day 11- Onsen to Ryokan...

Brendan was very excited to try the ofuro this morning, so Charlie got him washed off & they both got into the outside tub for a soak.

Breakfast was another feast with many different dishes.

It had become obvious while we were there that the onsen owners had rarely hosted anyone from the US before- they were very curious about us- so Charlie made sure to leave them a postcard & some of the candy we’d brought from home. We got on the road about 9:30 & headed for the town of Yufuin for some shopping & sightseeing. As we drove along the narrow roads I kept finding myself feeling as though I were travelling through the Adirondacks (except with bamboo groves...) & even Yufuin reminded me of a japanese version of Lake Placid. I think that my mind just couldn’t quite wrap itself around the idea that I was half a world away from home & kept finding familiar aspects to a very different place.

Brendan was not interested in shopping, so Charlie & I took shifts staying with him in the van (parked in a central parking area). I shopped for a bit then went back so that Charlie could look around & then walk with everyone to a small, beautiful lake nearby. It was actually kind of nice to rest in the van (Brendan was very happy messing with the den-gasher. Brendan & I walked over to a nearby grocery store at one point & found some “okashi” (snacks), plus I was just curious to see a japanese grocery store :)

After everyone came back from the walk we went to a lovely restaurant for lunch. It was called “Ume Hana” (Plum Flower) & specialised in tofu dishes. Perfect :) Most of us had the small “set” meal, which featured a bunch of different, beautiful, delicious dishes.

We all sat at one long table, tatami-style (on cushions). After lunch we piled back in the van, heading for Aso-san, which has the largest crater of any active volcano in the world. Unfortunately, there were clouds sitting on Aso-san, & although we made it to the visitors’ centre (& gift shop :), there was nothing to see! We couldn’t even see the van from the gift shop!! It was still pretty amazing, to be inside a cloud near the crater of a volcano. We stopped & Charlie got postcards, then we drove back down & headed for the next stop. We stopped by a famous apple bakery on the way & 20 minutes later we found our ryokan (traditional japanese inn). This was a much larger place, with a big staff. They carried in our luggage, asked for our choice of yukata colour, & then sat us all down for tea & sweets while our rooms were prepared. There was a short tour, to show us where the different outdoor hot springs baths were, then we were shown to our rooms. There was time before dinner for a soak, so Brendan went in first (we had an indoor bath in our rooms) & then I followed. We all put on yukata & then rested before dinner.

Brendan lost patience with his yukata before dinner, so he changed to his regular clothes. When we got to dinner we found that the younger boys had also opted for their regular clothes, although the adults were in full yukata (& some wearing hanten jackets over them- but we were pretty warm without them, so left them behind). Dinner was amazing- & comfortable, since the low tables had wells for our feet. We were served a special sai-shoku meal (no grilling, no meat or fish) that was at least 10 courses. Amazing! Our table was next to a window looking out over a beautiful rice field. Brendan lost patience with it all at various points, but his good humour was maintained by a steady stream of bowls of rice & occasional sips of dad’s beer :) & tea. The staff was very friendly & kind. The food was gorgeous & interesting & like nothing we’d ever had. We made it up to the 9th course, then had to go back to our room & get him into bed, so they brought the fruit course to our room. Brendan fell asleep pretty quickly & Charlie had a soak in the bath. The peepers sang us to sleep.

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