Thursday, August 30, 2012

Hot Springs and Mountain Towns

Yesterday I had the great cultural opportunity to go enjoy one of Japan's hot springs. Hot springs are a big deal here.  It is something everyone in Japan is familiar with.  If you are a fan of Japanese cartoons and or Japanese games you may already know quite a bit about hot springs.  But for the rest of you I'll try to explain what this boiling mountain water is all about.  Fist off here is the story. There is a mega grocery store here in my little city of Ogaki that was getting a group of people together to rent a bus for a bus tour of some mountain touristy hot spots. The all inclusive price for the bus, tour, hot springs, lunch buffet, and city tour of Takayama was only $60, so I jumped on. I had been to Takayama the first year I was in Japan, and going back there sounded great with a camera.  Also I had never been to a hot spring before and i knew that $60 was a steal.  Got up bright and early Wednesday morning at 5 am and got on the bus.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were many extra places along the way that we would would be stopping for suvaneers, and Sake tasting at small mountain breweries.  I'm a big fan of rice wine so free sake was a fun surprise.
The hot spring we were going to was a part of a very nice hotel which is where the all you can eat buffet was.  I stuffed myself sick on shrimp, chicken, miso soup, and a lot of other Japanese food. 
So getting back to the fact that hot springs in Japan are a big deal.  I found out that people come to hot springs for reasons ranging from relaxing, simple bathing, and receiving some health benefit from the minerals in the water.  I learned that the hot springs we were visiting were good for your skin.  Now unlike hot springs in the U.S. here you have to strip down totally naked.  Since nakedness is a foreign idea for westerners it is uncommon to see them at hot springs at all.  Because of this obviously i wasn't allowed to bring my camera but I found some photos online that give a pretty good  feel for what hot springs are like.  Also this may seem a strange concept but going to the hot springs is a very social thing. (hence the bus FULL of people)
People hang out, bathe, and relax in the 100+ F temp waters. So when in the hot springs you do have a towel but it is only for drying off.  you should rinse off in soap and water before getting in the hot waters.  sometimes in Photos or cartoons you see people wearing their towel in the water.  That is only to suit western viewers who have an issue with naked people.  I don't know if you would be thrown out of the establishment if you wore your towel, but it wouldn't surprise me if it would happen.  Keeping the water clean is a big deal. Now of course it is summer here and I could only bear the water for about 30 min.  But these places are open year round and extremely popular in the winter. In fact if you google Onsen (the Japanese word for hot spring) you will mostly find marketing adds for winter.
After finishing the hot springs we jumped back on the bus and rode up to Takayama.  Takayama is amazing because it is a really old city with tradition architecture like something out of samurai movie . I was thrilled to shoot here again.  Unfortunately I was only giving 2 hours to roam and shoot so i chose to shoot totally digital since I don't know if I'll ever go back here at all. It is a lovely city and I had fun filling up my memory card with RAW files.  If any of you ever have the opportunity, go to Takayama.  I would love to shoot here at night.  It is really a fantastic town.  Walking up and down the streets you almost feel like you are apart of a different time. When I get back to the USA I'll possess my photos.  So keep an eye on my Flickr account around October to see them pop up.
Me watching a movie on the bus

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