Thursday, April 10, 2008

Up to Our Necks in Hot Water - part one

Sometimes it is just nice to have a relaxing day and do something at the same time. Bathing is something of a national obsession here in Japan. Soaking in a hot tub every night is considered the way to relax and unwind. Not doing so is considered weird and unusual. Another aspect of this is the onsen. An onsen is a natural hot spring where people pay to sit in the hot tubs and wash their worries away. Onsens and public baths dot the countryside and visiting them is a form of holiday. We did some research in our guide books and found an onsen in the area that is recommended to travelers and is easy to access.

We would have to return to the town of Kurama, where we went to witness a fire festival and all we were able to see was the giant crowd. I was not sure we would ever return to this town, but here we were on our way back to the tiny town north of Kyoto. It was bound to be a relaxing day. The train ride out of Kyoto was on one of the most interesting trains we have ever ridden. This train was built for sightseeing. The train cars, there were two of them, had the fewest seats I have ever seen on a train. There was a row of single seats along the window on one side. On the other side of the car there was a row of double seats. Instead of facing forward or backward, as they do on most passenger trains, the benches faced the window. The window was made for viewing the passing scenery. The windows on this train were the tallest and widest windows on any train we have ever had the opportunity to ride. Unfortunately there was only one seat available when we boarded and it went to Logan and Jenny who sat together and shared. The ride from Kyoto to Kurama takes about an hour and it was not long before a bench facing the gorgeous picture window opened up and we were all able to sit.

We sat and watched the city-scape give way to rolling countryside then move to rolling hills and forest. It was a magnificent chance to see in a simple and relaxing way. We arrived in the town of Kurama and reminisced about visiting that night and how different the town looked with no people around. We strolled down that same street. What took us hours that night in October now took less than five minutes. The stroll was mystifying because when we were here last the street was neigh impassable and now there was nary a soul to be seen.

We found the massive map that stands in the center of town. This and a few souvenir shops were all that stood to mark the fact that we were in the city. There was not even one of the ubiquitous convenience stores that scatter the Japanese landscape. We knew from our book that this town held the onsen and a temple. We consulted the giant map and located the two landmarks and set off to find them.

The temple was first. Not only did it lie closest in proximity but we also thought that it would be wiser to hike the mountain and see what was at the top, and then take a nice long hot soak in an outdoor tub. This order seemed like a good idea and it worked out perfectly. We walked from the map to the entrance of the temple, which lies at the bottom of a mountain. We paid the entrance fee and began to climb the big hill. The path lead us first past a beautiful pond filled with swimming fish and a cascading waterfall. We took a few minutes to contemplate because Logan wanted to watch the fish swim in the pond. We then began to ascend the path again. Next we came to a steep set of stairs that led through a magnificent gate and into a small temple. The beautiful part of the gate was the fact that it was flanked by a pair of enormous trees that towered into the sky. I found it difficult to climb the stairs and stare up at the branches that tickled the clouds. Holding onto the stair rail helped but I still felt as if I would tip over backward at any given moment.

We took some time to rest and smell the roses at this stage. We were not sure if we would take the time to climb all the way to the top of the mountain today. After all, the last time we did that it took most of the afternoon, and we had other things to do today. We worried even more about the difficulty of the climb when we saw the next crew of people climbing the hill. We were being pursued by a group of hikers. I am not talking about a bunch of people like us who are out to have a nice afternoon visiting a nice little temple on a tall hill. I am talking about a hiking club with enough gear to put the editors of a backpacking magazine to shame. Here were about fifteen to twenty people hiking up the same mountain as us. We were wearing our regular clothes, jeans, sweatshirts, and our trusty old beat up slip on shoes. Coming up the mountain was our exact opposite. They were all wearing top of the line exercise clothes, spandex leggings, space age technology jackets, specially built day packs, trekking poles in their hands and hiking boots securely laced to their feet. We had to ask our selves, were we climbing the same mountain as they were?

But that is one of the things about Japan. No one does their hobby in halves. If you are a hiker, then you have all the best hiking gear and use it each and every time you go. If you decide to take up running then you outfit yourself and go out each time like you are a marathoner running the Tokyo Marathon. I am sure that there are many awesome sets of golf clubs or skis sitting in a storage shed that have been used one or two times. Here they were the members of the hiking club from somewhere, preparing to hike to the top and probably further. Our good guide book did mention that there was an excellent hiking trail that led to the next town. In fact it was at this point that we remembered that the train emptied out when we reached that station. We had thought it odd that the train had emptied there as it was even more desolate than Kurama, but now it made sense.

We pushed aside the worry about not having the proper gear to make it to the top and pushed onward. We found that the path to the top of this mountain was no where near as difficult as the trek to the top of the last one we climbed. This could have been due to the fact that the path today was stone paved and coursed its way up the mountain steadily. We found ourselves at the top in what seemed to be no time at all. In fact we thought that we must have arrived at the halfway point, but we had made it all the way to the temple. The view from the temple was astounding, not to mention the sight of the temple itself.

We could look out at all the tree covered mountains surrounding the area. It was a breathtaking sight to behold. The rising hills covered in green trees that stretched off into the distance gave me pause to think about the majesty of creation. Then we turned around and took in the manmade temple that sat on the side of this hill. The temple was beautiful to behold and Jenny wandered off to take a few pictures of the temple buildings while Logan and I played trains.

1 comment:

Ryan said...

Were you not the cousin who had to have the best tools to go with the trade yourself?