Saturday, January 30, 2010

Japan/SoKor Day 6: Hakone: Bathing in Coffee, Green Tea, and Sake

December 16, 2009
Japan Trip Day 6: Hakone: Bathing in Coffee, Green Tea, and Sake

I started off the day by chatting with a cool Aussie girl in my hostel about onsens (Japanese hot spa baths.) She said she used to work at a ski resort on Hokkaido (the North Island of Japan), acting as a tour guide for foreigners on their first trip to an onsen. Most people are a little nervous about it at first because it's a public bath, nude, and with other people! Certainly it was not unusual in Roman times, and it's definitely not unusual in Japan :) This sounds like a funny job she had, and she said it was weird because after the "onsen tour" she took the hostel guests on, she kept thinking to herself, "Well, I've seen that person naked!" Hilarious.

Then I chatted with a few more friends and said bye to the SF guys, the awesome British folks, and Mel (another super cool Aussie chick who I gave lots of good advice to the day before about good Canon camera lenses to buy in Japan!)

Then I said goodbye to K's House Tokyo, my fantastic home in Tokyo for 4 nights. It was sad to leave such a fun and awesome hostel, and it really reminded me what I love about traveling and how invigorating and amazing it is. :) From Kuramae, I took a Subway to Tokyo main station, and then headed to the high speed Shinkansen railway tracks... SWEET!! There are a bazillion tasty and fast food stands in the railway stations, and I got my first bento box! It was great, tasty, and had a weird egg and crazy vegetables, but it was good.

MAN the transportation is organized here. It's so friggin' efficient, I can hardly believe it. Everyone lines up in such an orderly way, and there are painted lines on the "prat-fohrm" (haha, i.e. platform), the train stops exactly there, and there are directions telling you where to stand while people exit the train. It's AMAZING. I am now using my "Ray-oo Pah-su!" (rail pass) and it rocks. The Shinkansen is friggin' FAST. From Tokyo I went to Odawara, which I thought was going to be a tiny, disorganized local station based on directions I found online... and instead... it was huge and fancy and modern like every other train station I've seen! I'm having no problem with train transfers, it's super easy and all the signs are in both Kanji and roman characters, and also the announcements tend to always be in English (especially on the Shinkansen trains.)

From Odawara, I took a local line to Hakoneyumoto station. This is a classic example of potential confusing Japan-ness... the guidebook said go to Hakone Yumoto station. The signage called it Hakone-Yumoto Stn. (with a hyphen). And everywhere else, it was Hakoneyumoto. :) The English-ized words in Japan often seem to be lacking spaces anywhere, so sometimes you have to read signs carefully to figure out where you are trying to go.

At Hakoneyumoto (or whatever it was called on the sign at that point), I waited for a bus to "Verde no Mori" meaning "Green Garden", I think. (Of course the bus stop's timetable called it "Verudenomori" or something like that... close enough!) :) While I was waiting there was a group of about 10 Japanese girls waiting too. They were traveling together in a group for the December University holidays. They all seemed very interested and excited that there was a random foreigner with way too many bags, and one of the particularly extroverted girls came over and said, "Where do you come from?!" I said "Canada!", and pointed at the flag on my backpacks, to which I got a resounding "Ooooh!!" from literally all 10 girls at once. It was HILARIOUS. We talked for a bit, and a couple of the girls had pretty good English. It turns out they are all Classical Piano Students at University together, and they were going for a holiday vacation together. They were really nice and funny, and kept laughing at my attempts at Japanese. Once I got onto the bus I had no idea if I was supposed to pay before or after or get a ticket and then pay after or who knows what. So they helped me out and helped me figure out where the heck I was supposed to get off the bus. The bus ride from Hakoneyumoto station up past Yunessun Spa Resort and to my hostel was amazing... the views of the hillsides were beautiful, lots of trees and quiet nature. My first impression: this is VERY different than Tokyo. I got to the B&B and dropped all my junk off and it's pretty bare-bones, but it's super cheap, like $32 a night for my own room. The place is quiet, but has a super cool onsen which I snuck some photos of after I made sure there was no one in there first!

I then headed right for Yunessun, a famous water park/spa resort. They give you a cool RFID watchband which acts as the lock for your locker, and also you can buy food with it at any point during the day, so you don't need to carry any money with you when you're at the water park. My first Japanese cultural error was walking onto the carpet with my shoes (again)... ah, crap. After a quick "Sumimasen!" (excuse me), I took off my shoes, and then tried to put on some slippers that were sitting there... the staff laughed at me, and I think they were someone else's slippers :) I got a "Passport" for Yunessun, meaning I could go to both the "Swimsuit Zone" (a water park and spa resort) and the "Naked Zone" (which was an outdoor onsen separated by gender.)

I started first at the water park. There was a nice pool, bubbily spa thing, a roman bath, and they had that gross "Dr. Fish" thing where you put your feet in a pool and there are tiny fish in there who eat the dead skin off your feet. I'd heard about it before and it sounded insane, so I didn't try it. :) There were some more baths, greek style, turkish baths, and so on. From there I went outside and there were some cool warmer tubs in some caves, and a few great water slides. I tried to find the Green Tea Spa, but couldn't find it (turns out it was on the other side of the park).

Then I walked to the other (crazzzzzzy) part of the park, it was hilarious. This was so cool and had all the novelty baths and unusual baths, this was really the main reason I wanted to come to Yunessun. I started in a Coffee Bath (literally, "Hotteh Cohii!"). The aroma of the bath was very coffee-ish, and the water was pretty dark. I laughed cause it seemed like the hotter bath was a dark roast, and the more mild baths had a lighter coffee colour. Hahhahaha so hilarious!!

Then I went to a Red Wine bath, and noticed they had a sign that said there was a "presentation" at 4:30, in 5 or 10 minutes from then. I waited for it, and it turned out the presentation was one of the staff members coming by with 3 big bottles of real wine, and pouring it into the big hot tub that the 20 or 30 of us were all sitting in!! This was not a bath of pure wine, there was definitely a lot of water in there too, but the smell from the water and steam was very red wine-y. Hilarious. The funniest part about the "presentation" was that the staff member told people to come to the edge of the bath near him, and he poured the wine over people's heads rather than just into the water!! Everyone seemed to be totally into this and thought it was hilarious, and several kids had wine poured on their heads too. Man Japan is hilarious and insane! :) The was so funny and we all cupped our hands so we could score a little wine to drink before it hit the water.

From there it got even crazier: Green Tea bath, Sake bath, Black Tea bath, and then a Japanese Traditional Bath. That one was super cool because it had literally 50 floating half-grapefruits in it, along with a ton of other fruit and lemons and citrus... just floating in it?! This is apparently a very traditional bath style and it rocked. I then checked out the walking bath (rocks, running water, and steps), and a weird and interesting Charcoal bath. All this bathing in beverages made me hungry, so I went to the cafeteria and got a nice rice and chicken early dinner by swiping my wristband!

From there I went on to Mori No Yu, the "Naked Zone". This was my first onsen experience and it was just awesome. You start by putting your bathing suit into a locker and putting on an incredibly small "modesty towel" around your... um... crotch. :) Then there was a wooden ladle thing which was really funny and made a hilarious sloshy sound when you dunked it into the hot water. I discretely looked around at the old dude who was also about to get into the bath to see what he was doing, and it seemed like you were just supposed to pour a few ladles of hot water over yourself. Then I got into the bath and it was amazing. Super relaxing and refreshing, and it was surprisingly quick to get used to the idea of everyone being "in the buff" since no one is weird about it, and it's just part of the cultural nature of bathing in Japan. There were many different tubs inside, and then a big window outside. There were lots more tubs outside and it was an incredibly beautiful area with a great view of the night sky. While sitting in the bath you are not meant to get any germs in there, so you are supposed to keep your small courtesy/modesty towel on your head!! You fold it a few times and just leave it on your head, everyone was doing that, it was really really funny. There was a really glorious outdoor vibe, and I sat there for quite a while, moving between different tubs (all at slightly different temperatures.) There were a couple of wooden tubs on stands, and they were just individually sized, which was nice too. Some were just quite warm, but a few of them were very hot! It was a bit like cooking yourself in a human-sized steamed bun steamer!! :)

After a great relaxing time outside bathing with random strangers, I took my courtesy towel off my head and put it back on to roughly cover the nether regions and then walked back inside. I was just about to leave when I saw that there were fresh towels and a "preening room!" In there, there was a free brush, comb and shaver. This was excellent given that I've already been backpacking for a week and so I desperately need to shave, and brush and comb my hair!

After the "preening", I went to buy some junk food, and walked back to my hostel. Once there, I got a nice chair massage, and the ate a bunch of junk food and watched a bit of Japanese TV in my single room. There was some random stuff on: movies, crazy TV shows, the movie "Seabiscuit" with subtitles, and Quentin Tarantino was in a softbank mobile ad on TV, and it was hilarious. The rest of the evening was just watching some TV and chillin' out, relaxing after a great first 5 days in Japan, thinking about how fun and weird the spa was, and getting excited for the next day's trip to Yokohama for the Siggraph Asia Computer Graphics Conference! It's gonna be awesome to meet up with Tatsuya again at Siggraph, I can't wait!!

I had originally planned to come to Hakone to get a good view of Mt. Fuji, but it turns out the spa was so awesome (and it probably wasn't super clear out anyway), that I happily spent all day there and had an amazing time. Japan is so SUGOI (awesome)!!!!!!

At the Shinkansen high-speed train platform for the first time!

This is how I traveled for 2 weeks. Huge bag JUST fit in the overhead area, and small bag beside me with travel journal, camera, and food handy.

A standard Shinkansen Train Car

First Bento Box for lunch! This was really tasty, for about $10 you can get a hot meal like this in literally 10 seconds on your way through the train station and onto the train. Also got some hot tea from a vending machine and some hi-chews (like Japanese Starburst) for the train ride.

From Hakoneyumato station, I took the bus towards Yunessun Spa Resort

Suuuuper local bus, had no idea where I was going, and nothing was in English. Fortunately I met some Japanese students on their way to a different spa resort, and they helped me figure out when I had to get off the bus.

And... this is where the bus dropped me. Hahaha! No signs, no idea where to go!! Haha :) Tried a few roads and found my hostel pretty quickly.

Found my hostel!!

Snuck into the hostel's onsen public bath and there was no one in there, so I snapped a few quick sneaky photos. These are the tubs where you are required to wash yourself before getting into the hot public bath. You sit on the blue butt-grooved seat and wash yourself with that pump soap (bathing suits not allowed at this point, hehe). Then shower fully, or use that green tub to full up and pour on yourself. Hilarious.


This is a pretty typical hotel amenity in Japan - big public bath where you bathe with random strangers. Sometimes there are two of them (split up by gender), and sometimes males get to use it one day, and females the next.

"Please refrain wearing swimsuit and using towels in the bathtub."

After your bath, you sit here and "groom yourself" - free plastic hair brushes, disposable razors, and always random hair cream and hair growth tonic for baldness that a lot of the old dudes seemed to be keen on using.

Lots of rules and etiquette

Yunessun Spa Resort!

Awesome looking restaurant

Water park from the outside

Inside the entrance, and their mascot is (believe it or not), cat-based!

Now for a few photos of inside the resort... I found these online cause I didn't bring my camera in. Just found a few random photos that other people have taken while there. This one shows the hot coffee spa, the green tea spa, and the red wine spa!

The *amazing* outdoor spa

This is what the outdoor spa looked like when I was there at night. Just amazing (and also with more random uber-naked people)

Red Wine Spa!

Inside the water park area

Another pic of the red wine spa!

Green Tea spa

Sake Spa

Someone's random pic of the Sake spa

Everything is in vending machines

Haha terribly unhealthy dinner... some chocolates from the store and a chocolate and vanilla cake roll shaped like a cigar and called "Financier" hahahaha!!

Some fantastic "Engrish", talking about how the logo for Yunessun is a cat who likes spas.

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