Japan day 23

Japan day 23
Nikaho-Akita
As I packed up and set off this morning, I decided the Michinoeki (Roadside Station) was not a bad place to spend the night. It was quiet (I was the only one to spend the night there), clean, with good facilities. The only thing it lacked was showers. So, my antennae were up looking for an onsen as I set off for Akita.
Now, an important thing about the word ‘onsen’ is how to pronounce it. On several occasions, I was met with total incomprehension, until I discovered I was putting the stress on the wrong syllable: I was putting the stress on the ‘o’ instead of the ‘e’. In Japanese, words of identical spelling can have different meanings with a slight change of pronunciation or stress.
After 44km on the bike, I looked up at this sign which announced another Michinoeki,

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but I also caught sight of the steaming circle on a red background….I was not going to let this opportunity of an onsen pass in case there were none in Akita. This was an opportune moment for a break, but this time it was for more than just a cup of coffee. Sakata was still a sore point with me….

Now, onsens are simple places to enter, especially if you arrive on a bike.

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Just lock up the bike and go in. For 300 yen (£1.75) I joined the ritual of kicking off shoes, undressing (and I am talking about segregated bathing here….in Hokkaido, it may be different) soaping and showering in a communal bay, sitting on a low stool, and then entering one of three hot spring pools…..moving on to the jacuzzi pool, and finally migrating to the outside pool which, in this instance, had stunning views of the sea lazily lapping up on to the beach (unbelievably windless today, and sunny to boot). Of course I would love to show you photos of the inner workings of an onsen, but there’d be rather too many pendulous appendages for family entertainment here (if you get my meaning). But to enjoy the onsen, you have to be un-self conscious about your own nakedness…..everybody else is.

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The ritual of the onsen is taken very seriously by the Japanese. Most don’t go there to talk and socialise. This is all about emptying the mind, and enjoying the solitariness of your own inner state of being. The solo long-distance cyclist knows all about this, but to experience it soaking in hot thermal waters is truly therapeutic.
I like the image of filling the mind with emptiness, and emptying the body of its fullness (of stresses and strains).
As I ‘floated’ out of there, at one with life once again, I ordered a ‘bento’ in a nearby stall,

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was given green tea to complement it, I climbed back on the bike and wobbled along dreamily for several kms. But it seemed effortless.
When I got to Akita, and I know some of you will cluck in disapproval, I checked into a hotel….my excuse being, of course, I needed to catch up on laundry. Of the 23 nights so far on this trek, this is only the sixth time I’ve paid for a room. I’ve been hosted on six nights, and free/wild camped on 11. I have loved the variety. No two nights have been the same.

Try it sometime, if you haven’t done so already. Go back to basics. Find out what you can tolerate. Have the courage to arrive somewhere after a long tiring day of travel, not knowing till sunset (or after) where you’re going to lay your weary head. It takes a little bit of courage, but there’s a lot of fun and adventure in finding out what serendipity can bring into your life. Believe me…..

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About Frank Burns

Looking for the extraordinary in the commonplace………taking the road less travelled……..striving for the ‘faculty of making happy chance discoveries’ in unremarkable circumstances. Click on the Personal Link below to visit my webpages.

Posted on April 12, 2015, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. An Onsen seems like my idea of heaven! Agree about travelling into the unknown though, life is for living.

  2. You’ve brought back happy memories of my cycle tour around Iceland in 2001. Here we found that almost every village had a swimming pool and hot pools (geothermally heated) and the was a campsite next to the swimming pool which took advantage of it’s facilities. If you can finish even a tough days ride and jump into a 50 C hot pool before dinner then you seem never to get stiff muscles at all. There are natural hot pools too, we only found one but it was ever better. We sat in it on the edge of a beach, looking – through the steam – at a snow capped mountain range on the other side of the bay. We had time to kill before taking a ferry across said bay some hour or so later. Both blissful and surreal.

  3. Loved this post Frank. I laughed out loud at your description as to why there were no photos of the inner workings of the onsen.

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