–Originally written June 3, 2004–
Attempting to experience more traditional aspects of Japanese life, I left the comfy confines of the Tokyo Hilton, where the staff speaks English and serves sausage and bacon for breakfast for Kikuya Ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn and onsen. Like a bed and breakfast in the States, a ryokan provides a more intimate experience. A two hour shinkansen ride from Tokyo station, Kikuya Ryokan in Shuzenji is a hot springs resort where guests can relax in a more traditional, quiet atmosphere.
Greeted warmly by the staff, I was entertained in the waiting area with some Japanese TV (ah, how I really do love watching TV here, even if I only understand at best ten to fifteen words). A young naki brought me to my room, trying her best along the way to explain in English the layout and operating hours of the bathing rooms. Once we arrived in my room, she had me sign the register and served tea and Japanese sweets. Another naki, shortly thereafter, stopped in to bring a yukata (kimono-style robe) in a larger size and informed me of when meals would be served.
Dinner was a multicourse, colorful affair filled with seafood. While I am far from a fan, I did make an attempt to eat certain items. First was a series of cold plates containing sashimi, melon, and a hot soup containing, I believe, a piece of some fish. A very colorful, gelatinous affair containing shrimp and other pieces of crawling critters was also served, along with additional sauces and seasonings. This was followed by miso soup and a grilled river fish, of which I did eat some. Ginger rice and a delightful tofu and black rice dish was also presented. This was combined with some pickled vegetables and topped off with fish and shrimp tempura. Dessert was fruit and ice cream. While everything I ate was oiishi (delicious), the seafood definitely strained by eating capabilities. I did eat some of the fish and nibbled on the tempura, but I couldn’t bring myself to eat the crawlfish. And I can finally tell anyone who attempts to inform me that fish tastes like chicken that they are, in fact, quite wrong, and the two taste nothing at all like one another. Overall, though, the course had a delightful mixture of tastes and textures that my palate was unfamiliar with, all served in the wonderful ambience of a very traditional-style room.
The hot springs bath itself is sugoi! The indoor room is open twenty-four hours a day, and provides an easy atmosphere in which to relax. The open-air baths are open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and the garden by the baths are very beautiful. After a few minutes, it is easy to become light-headed, but this is cured by a relaxing outdoor walk through the gardens outside my window. Outside there is the sound of rushing water from the creek which runs through the building, while cheers of ‘Kampai!’ and the singing from karaoke can be heard from some of the groups here in the banquet rooms. The Japanese I have seen have been friendly, and some of the other guests are amused at the sight of a tall gaijin wandering about. The staff is wonderful, and the naki assigned to watch me is indulgent and friendly, despite the language difficulty.
Perhaps there will be time for another bath before bed.