Day 23-24: An Adventure In Overnight Onsen

This weekend our entire class had an overnight trip to Mount Koya!

It started at 8:30am on Saturday when we had to meet at the university to get on the charter bus. It was decided through a battle of rock-paper-scissors who I would sit with on the trip, hah guess I’m getting popular, funny though how I didn’t have a say in this…
A little over an hour into the trip we had pit stop somewhere…

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Back to driving for an hour or two then we stopped for lunch at the Wakayama Marina-city and Kuroshio market.

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I was not super interested in eating any of the fish that was available at the market, in the process of wandering I found this weird European-architecture place.

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Here I found a cafe and ordered some very western french fries as it was one of the cheaper things to get, but I also bought this…it was filled with a chocolate pudding type thing.

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I didn’t need to eat too much as I had packed a bunch of snacks, the bus driver even commented how prepared all of us were for packing food and drinks. After lunch it was back to driving for a few hours, I napped for a bit and woke up on the mountain side!

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We made two stops before we arrived at our inn. The first was this grave yard, it had a really neat atmosphere.

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Our next stop was to what seemed to be a random temple, at this point unless there is some thing that stands out about it all the temples look too similar to me…We explored the surrounding area and found a stall that sold Taiyaki (a fish shaped cake). I had mine with the traditional red bean paste filling, I’d have it again! They were so good almost every one in the class ended up buying one from the vendor, we made his profit quota!

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Next was the Fukuchiin, temple lodging and hot spring. They had a sign out for us and every thing, the sign on the left is welcoming the University of Winnipeg!

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First we were given a quick tour then taken to our rooms. I got super lucky and was assigned a room with Tim and Clark, I couldn’t ask for a better group. This is our room..

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We explored the grounds a little and then we got ready for dinner.

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We were served a traditional Japanese meal, similar to what the monks here ate so there was no meat, almost every dish contained tofu.

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On top of all that we were also served a bowl of rice, miso soup, and a tofu dessert item. I know some of you wont believe this BUT I tried every item served AND the only thing I didn’t eat was a tempura tomato and the mushrooms that were in my soup, not bad for a “picky eater”.

After dinner, which took me an entire hour to finish, I took some photos…

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After dinner we decided to change into our Yukata (a casual summer kimono made of cotton) which had been provided to us by the temple.

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Then us girls decided it was time to try the onsen! For those of you who are unfamiliar onsen is a type of bathing facility which includes a hot spring. Typically you do not wear any thing into the facility and after washing your body you enter the hot spring to relax. When we entered the women’s bathing room there was a common area with tables and chairs to relax at, then there is a room where you must take off your slippers (which we were required to wear when out in the halls). Next you enter a room that has shelves with wicker baskets on them, here you undress and place your belongings in the basket, your towel for drying off also remain here but we were given a long rectangular wash cloth which you take into the bathing area.
This was the moment of truth for us, would I go through with it? My mind filled with all the reasons not to be naked in front of my friends and random strangers, a mental “gulp” and then the Yukata came off and I had done it, for the first awkward time I was going to be bathing publicly.
Rather oddly once you undress you must pass the sinks and area where you can dry your hair THEN you enter the bathing room. Along the right hand wall was a line of showers in which you sit on a stool and wash your body. Once you are clean, we had two options; the outdoor onsen or the indoor bath. We chose the outdoor pool first, it was very beautiful with a rock path leading to the bath that had been constructed with rocks (or made to look that way), there were also some shrubs and trees to create a very relaxing environment. The water was very warm so we only stayed in this pool for 5-10min and switched to the indoor pool which was much cooler but still we were not able to stay long. I thought I was doing fine but when I stood to leave I had to grip the hand rail as I had become very dizzy. We decided to shower down with cool water before heading back to our baskets to dry off and change.
I have to say I was not thrilled to bathe naked in a some what public setting but once I got in there and did it, it wasn’t such a big deal, who knew? Some of the girls who I thought would be up for this sort of thing acted very shy, it surprised me that I was more open to it then they.

After onsen we hung out with the boys who had congregated in one room and were playing spin the bottle, but in their version when the bottle landed on you, you had to take a shot of sake that some one had smuggled in.

Because this was a traditional style inn we slept on the futons that were laid out over the tatami mats that line the rooms. I’ve got to say I enjoyed having the opportunity to experience this but they are super hard and uncomfortable. I didn’t get much sleep and spent most of the night tossing and turning.

Some thing that was super neat was that we had the opportunity to sit in on the monks morning prayers…if we woke up before 6am…I woke up at 5:50, put on clothes and headed to the prayer hall. There were 5-6 monks who lit candles and incense, chanted and read their sutras and then gave us the chance to pray with them. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to take photos but the room had an inner area that was separated by sliding doors with screens. Inside this area is where the monks had there things to perform the morning prayers, and an elaborate statue with trinkets and offerings all around. The only light was from outside shinning through the open sliding doors and the lanterns and candles inside the inner area. Most of the items inside are decorated with gold and create quite the overpowering scene, it was breathtaking to be surrounded by the scent of incense, your ears filed with the rhythmic chanting of the monks, and the glowing gold decorations that draw the eye in while the shadows and darkness take your mind away from every thing else.
I am not a morning person…at all…most of the time I don’t even acknowledge any hour of the day before 8am but I am really pleased that I made the effort to attend this. Afterwards we were invited to view their special rock garden which was only visible from the prayer room. Which I will now share with the entire Interwebz.

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Right after prayers we were served the traditional monk-breakfast.

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This meal wasn’t as filling and I didn’t find as many of the dishes to my liking, but I still tried every thing!
We had an hour and a half after breakfast to check out, I pulled out cushions and got a much needed morning nap. I took a bunch more photos of the inn before leaving.

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I cannot express how grateful I am to have had this opportunity, it was absolutely fantastic, I only wish we could have stayed another day.

For what ever reason our bus didn’t leave for an hour after check out so a few of us walked down the street and found a coffee shop were we had a ‘second breakfast’ of two small pancakes and coffee. Once back on the bus we began our long trip home. I found it annoying that every one who had gotten on the bus before me made the choice to sit alone making a few of us need to pair up, greedy bunch, I was content to share with Charles near a group of my friends.
Another annoying thing was that some how a bee/wasp had gotten in the bus…instead of ushering it out some one killed it because it was ‘savagely attacking every one on the bus’ (I am very sarcastic) it wasn’t bothering any one “but it could have started bugging people” was the reason they gave me for the innocent slaughter of the insect. Ok that was my rant.

We stopped again at the market in Wakayama for lunch. Today I found a basket of tempura vegetables and shrimp, it was soo good!

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At lunch I made a really cool discovery, the sticker of an octopus that Tim had put on my cell phone was mood-changing!

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when the temperature is fairly hot the octopus turns pale…

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And when it gets cooler he turns bright red!

A short drive after lunch and we stopped for a tour at a local Sake and plum wine brewery. I wanted more to take a nap, until the gift shop where we were able to sample ALL the different types of alcohol they had. I’m just gonna say “bucket list: get tipsy in a gift shop” CHECK. I ended up picking up this lovely raspberry flavored plum wine, soo good, and it was only like $12.

We had one last pit stop before getting back and the only reason I mention this is because I got an iced cappuccino WITH cinnamon topping from a vending machine that played music while I waited, showed me a video of what the machine was doing on the inside AND it screwed the lid on for me. Best vending machine EVER!

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8 responses to “Day 23-24: An Adventure In Overnight Onsen

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