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Our 6-Day Kantō Tour (関東六日游) 10/3 – 10/8/2008; Atami 熱海 October 25, 2008

Posted by hslu in Travel.
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Sunday Evening, 10/5/2008 – Atami 熱海

  • Atami 熱海 was about 45 minute bus ride from Odawara 小田原 at the northern end of the Izu Peninsula. We arrived at Atami a little pass 4 in the afternoon. The sky was getting cloudier and it was about to rain. As our bus entering Atami and approaching Hotel New Akao, we were told that the hotel had already arranged for a musician playing traditional Japanese music to welcome us. After that, we would visit the beautiful Japanese garden next to the hotel which the hotel owners had cultivated for generations. She informed us that we would dress in Japanese style bath rob for a formal 会席料理 dinner at 6:30. After dinner, we would Karaoke to celebrate the occasion. She also asked us to pay attention when entering into the bath house: 頼朝 is for men and 政子is for women. In addition, it was essential that we cleaned ourselves first using a small hand towel and top quality lotions provided by the hotel before entering the bath pool; this is called 泡湯. Lastly don’t look embarrassed; just undress yourself (everything), take the hand towel, clean every inch of your body and act like you have done this many times. Do not look around because nobody will notice your presence at all. Of course, it was easily said than done. I wasn’t planning to do it anyway. I wasn’t going to be naked in front of other men. No way. For tonight, we would sleep on tatami and the maid would prepare our bed when we were having our dinner. Good. I would go to the dinning room, enjoy our formal dinner, watch other people sing, retire to our room, watch TV, play Sudoku and sleep. Good planning. Maria wanted to 泡湯. That would be fine for me because I’d have the TV for myself. Atami 熱海 was about 45 minute bus ride from Odawara 小田原 at the northern end of the Izu Peninsula. We arrived at Atami a little pass 4 in the afternoon. The sky was getting cloudier and it was about to rain. As our bus entering Atami and approaching Hotel New Akao, we were told that the hotel had already arranged for a musician playing traditional Japanese music to welcome us. After that, we would visit the beautiful Japanese garden next to the hotel which the hotel owners had cultivated for generations. She informed us that we would dress in Japanese style bath rob for a formal 会席料理 dinner at 6:30. After dinner, we would Karaoke to celebrate the occasion. She also asked us to pay attention when entering into the bath house: 頼朝 is for men and 政子is for women. In addition, it was essential that we cleaned ourselves first using a small hand towel and top quality lotions provided by the hotel before entering the bath pool; this is called 泡湯. Lastly don’t look embarrassed; just undress yourself (everything), take the hand towel, clean every inch of your body and act like you have done this many times. Do not look around because nobody will notice your presence at all. Of course, it was easily said than done. I wasn’t planning to do it anyway. I wasn’t going to be naked in front of other men. No way. For tonight, we would sleep on tatami and the maid would prepare our bed when we were having our dinner. Good. I would go to the dinning room, enjoy our formal dinner, watch other people sing, retire to our room, watch TV, play Sudoku and sleep. Good planning. Maria wanted to 泡湯. That would be fine for me because I’d have the TV for myself.
  • Atami is a small coastal town along the Pacific Ocean. Its scenery was stunning and breath-taking even under a cloudy sky: small mountains to the west, rugged coastal lines with old pine trees, endless waves pounding the rock islands formed during centuries of volcano activities, and wide open Pacific Ocean to the east. Picture perfect!
  • Atami has been a hot spring paradise for at least 1,000 years. The area became even more famous when the noted Japanese Nobel Prize novelist Kawabata Yasunari 川端康成dramatized the short romance between a young, lonely and introspective high school student from an upper class school in Tokyo (the author himself) and a traveling dancer in his 1926 novel “The Izu Dancer” 伊豆的舞孃. He was on a holiday hiking in the Izu Peninsular. She was a young dancer traveling with her family around the country entertaining crowds for a living. The difference in social classes in pre-war Japan between the two young lovers guaranteed a sad ending after a few days of soul searching and self-awareness on the part of the young student. After the novel came out and especially after Yasunari won the Nobel Prize in 1968, rich politicians, businessmen, and royalties from the upper classes in Tokyo flocked the area in search for a nice vacation and maybe some romance too. The common men would be the envy of his co-workers and neighbors for weeks if he could save enough money to have a few days off here with his family. Nowadays, it will be too expensive to vacation here. Many Japanese vacation in foreign countries such as Hawaii, Bali, Taiwan and Southeast Asian countries because it is cheaper. Today, Atami and other cities in the Izu Peninsular have lost the honor as the top destination for family vacation. Area hotels such as Hotel New Akao cater to tourists like us to keep the place going and they are willing to take good care of us.

  • The Japanese garden is a multi-level garden constructed along the side of the cliff which also houses the hotel. We quickly toured the beautiful garden because a light rain had started. We took a few pictures, enjoyed the open sea and caught a slight breeze in our hairs. I guessed that we were really on vacation now. We then retired into our room, changed into bath rob as instructed (folding the right flap under the left flap. Not the other way around.), and sip the local tea provided by the hotel.
  • The formal 会席料理dinner started at 6:30 PM. We all sat on tatami and had a small, low table in front of us. The food on the table looked very inviting. But we couldn’t start yet because we had to introduce ourselves. I was the first one to start. In all we had about 10 families and all from the US. After the waitresses lighted up our hot pot, we started to enjoy our dinner. In addition, we had at least 3 more dishes delivered to our table and the whole dinner took about 2 hours to finish. We had shabu-shabu, sashimi, miso soup, seaweed and vegetable salad, some kind of tofu and meat dish, tempura, a whole fish, some 醬菜, rice, Japanese tea and tea ice cream as dessert. The presentation was great but the food is not as good as I liked. The fish was not deep-fried but tender. The hot pot was good but the meat got over-cooked after my karaoke performance. Sashimi again was very fresh. I guess Japanese know how to serve sashimi. I was told that the entire dinner would cost ¥9,000 which was about $85 per person at about ¥102/US Dollar. I bet that Signet Tour got a discount. Otherwise, it would be too expensive to eat this meal.
  • While everyone was eating, Yuri started the karaoke machine, passed out a 3″ thick song book and asked people to volunteer to be the first to sign. I got a book too because Maria and I sat at the head of the first row of tables. Since no one was volunteering, I ended up as the first one to sing at the request of Yuri. I also wanted to break the ice since no one else was willing to do it. I sang 忘情水 “wang qing shui” which I knew very well. I thought I did a good job to get everyone interested. Other people followed; 2 young guys in their 30’s who were with their wives, a doctor in the field of internal medicine. The second song I sang was 蕭灑走一回 “xiao sa zou yi hui” which means life is short; why don’t you live your live without caring too much about small things and worrying too much about the consequence. • Yuri sang a Japanese song for us. It sounded like a love song. Her voice was excellent, her skill was good, the music was beautiful but I didn’t know the meaning of the words. Yuri asked my help to sign another song to keep the karaoke going. I politely declined saying that others should get the chance to show off themselves. I asked other people to join us and another person agreed and sang “何日君再來 “He ri jun zhai lai”. However, he did a terrible job. In the end there were only five of us, all guys, who were brave enough to sign in front of the group.
  • Soon, we had to stop because Yuri had to pick up three other people at the railroad station because their flight to Tokyo was delayed. Too bad that we had to stop. Otherwise, I would sing another song: 家後 “jia hou”. It is a Taiwanese song which literarily means “back of the house.” This is a Taiwanese term which means “wife” because in a traditional Taiwanese family, the wife is always in the back of the house taking care of the family and her husband; cooking, cleaning, washing and eating after everyone has eaten. The lyric is beautiful and both Maria and I like it a lot.
  • After dinner, we wondered around the hotel, looked at a shop in the lobby of the hotel, listen to the music by another musician and checked out the public bath pools: the 頼朝の湯 and 政子の湯. Maria said that she wanted to go and encouraged me to do the same. I hesitated and said that if I can do it with her in private, then I’d go now. But, I said to myself, maybe I should go just for the sake of been there, done that. We agreed to go after 11:00 when few people would be there and I won’t be as embarrassed.
  • At 8:30 PM, there was a show in the hotel lobby pr3esenting Japanese’s way to prepare 麻糬 Mochi. Maria and I went there a bit late because we didn’t know exactly where it was to be held. Many guests were already there when we got there. Some guests were invited to practice the technique. I got up there to and I had picture to show it. It was quite fun but the host wasn’t going to give me have all the fun. At the end we got a little sample with peanut powder. It was good and fun. Too bad, we didn’t get the kind with 紅豆沙 “hong dou sha” inside. That would be even better. Ha!
  • We went back to the room around 9. It would be at least 2 hours before the bath time. We watched some TV and did some Sudoku. By ten O’clock, I decided to get it over with. Maria and I took out hand towel, put the bath towel around our necks just like the Japanese did, wore 拖鞋 “tuo xie” and took elevator to the basement of the hotel.
  • There were two bath pools for men and two for women: an indoor large pool (about 30′ x 50′ in size) and an outdoor smaller one about 10′ x 20′. I chose the smaller one simply because we were only 5′ away from the sea and I could literally smell the sea while taking the bath. Maria went for the smaller outdoor one too:
  • 露天風呂頼朝の湯 for me and 露天風呂政子の湯 for her. As I waked in, there was another person there. He was about to finish and was getting ready to leave. I was very glad that I didn’t have to undress in front of a lot of people. I put my rob, slippers and bath towel in the steel storage bin, locked the bin and wrapped the key on my left wrist as instructed by Yuri. I didn’t wash myself like described by Yuri using three different bath lotions and jell: one for hair, one for face and one for body because I was afraid someone might come in. I quickly washed myself and walked into the pool as the other guy opened the wooden door and left the pool. By now, I was the only one there. It was of course dark outside. I could hear wave pounding the wall on the other side. I could smell the sea as I sat in the pool which wasn’t very warm. How lucky! I said to myself: I have the outdoor bath pool all by myself. I’d call this exceptionally good timing! Soon, my sole ownership was halted as another person walked in. A middle aged man. We sat on the far sides of the pool not saying anything to each other; not even a hello or hi! After about 3 or 4 minutes, two other people walked in. Now four is a crowd. The other two persons were friends and they were chatting in Japanese. After another minute or two, I walked out of the bath pool, opened the locked bin, dried myself and put on my rob and slipper, I opened the wooden door and walked out of the pool house. I’ve done it and it wasn’t that bad after all. But I am not sure I will do it again unless it is with Maria only.
  • I wondered around the basement waiting for Maria to come out. She was apparently enjoying herself because I waited for at least 20 minutes: listening to a woman in her 30’s talking about her and her daughter to the other woman who was also in her 30’s, watching some guys playing ping pong on the first floor, watching a little TV nearby, and checked out food court and three small restaurants just around the corner of the 露天風呂頼朝の湯. I decided to get some money so that we could get something to eat and drink some beer after Maria finished her bath. I went upstairs and got some money. By the time I came back to the basement, she was still in the 露天風呂政子の湯. Must be nice to be able to enjoy herself without much regard to the other women there. I guessed this was 蕭灑 too.
  • She finally got out; refreshed and warm. I asked her how it was. She said that she liked it and she would go back there in the morning. She also said that there were other women in the bath pool while she was there. We walked to the small food court, picked the restaurant in the middle and sat at the counter. A woman in her late 40 or early 50’s was the owner I guess. We ordered some Edamame, roasted squid, and Asahi beer. We watched the woman preparing the Edamame. The squid was prepared by another restaurant. We took out time eating and drinking and went to our room near 1 in the morning. Tatami bed was prepared while we were at dinner. The bed spread was soft and the sheet and cover was clean. Everything was nicely done: the hotel, the room, the view, the formal dinner, the hot spring bath, and sea breeze. One thing that dented our vacation spirit was that the entire evening and the next morning were cloudy and raining occasionally. We weren’t able to watch the sun rise which we were told is gorgeous.
  • Early next morning, Maria woke up around 4:30 or so and went to 露天風呂政子の湯 again. She got back after 30 to 40 minutes. She said that by the time she got to the bath house, there were many other women enjoying the bath already. I instead enjoyed my beauty sleep and dreamed about what I would do if the bath house had many people there at the time when I was naked. Ah! May be next time. Maybe I’ll request a hotel with a private bath house instead. Come to think about it, the one which allows swimming trunk will be okay with me. I am not that picky; you know.
  • We’d spend the next day at Fuji-Hakone National Park visiting Owakudani Valley, Riding a pirate ship at Lake Ashi and taking the aerial lift at Hakone Ropeway to a hot spring, and then spent the evening in Shinjuku in Tokyo. We would stay at the Keio Plaza, one of the busiest hotels in Tokyo.

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