23/5/16. Or rather an “onsen”, which is a naturally heated mineral bath (as opposed to a “sento” which is tap water heated conventionally – these subtleties matter!). As you may well know already, bathing has been elevated to an art form in Japan and the unusual thing, to a Western way of thinking, is that it is done in public. The hotel where we are staying has its own onsen (many are public/commercial enterprises apparently) which is open to men and women at (different) specified times. The times are different because you get into your birthday suit and all get into the same large “tub”. Before you do so, however, it is most important that you wash yourself thoroughly using the showers (sitting on little stools). You then just wallow in the hot water before washing yourself again in the showers when you get out.
And, by crikey, the water is HOT! Stephen couldn’t last 10 minutes in it. There was a notice on the wall explaining the mineral composition of the water – the figures were understandable but the minerals to which they related were a mystery – and three temperatures – 31.8°, 32° and 42°. Is 42° really hot? It doesn’t sound it as it is only 5 degrees more than normal blood temperature but how hot is a bath “at home”?
Anyway, Stephen emerged feeling a new man! Cooked right through perhaps, but wonderfully relaxed. He is going back for more. And he lost ½ kg in the short time he was in the water (at least as per the scales in the drying area)!
Meanwhile, in other news today……. We cycled to the city of Shikoku-Chuo where the above hotel is located. To get here we had to leave the valley of the Yoshino River which naturally involved a climb but this was far less tough than we were expecting. It was very gradual (unlike the descent from the youth hostel which was less fun than you might imagine – hairpin bends and heavily laden bikes do not mix well, even for Stephen) and after the first km or so there was either a footpath or a section of old road that we could use.
At the top, however, was a tunnel of almost a km (955 metres according to the sign) which was thankfully lit but only had a very narrow “footpath” which was just navigable by bike if pushing (á la Christine) but Stephen struggled riding along because the bags kept touching the wall. In the end he took to the road (which, in truth, was not very busy), pinned his ears back and rode as quickly as possible down the middle of the lane! He emerged into the light, after what seemed like an age but was probably only a couple of minutes, unscathed and having held up no traffic. After waiting what seemed like an eternity, he walked back into the tunnel (along the footpath) to find Christine. She had stopped to change her glasses – “sunnies” being somewhat of a hindrance in the low light!
For the first time (so far as we were aware, at least) we were on a pilgrims’ trail which is a “big thing” on Shikoku Island. For the hardcore, this involves visiting 88 temples around the island on foot – a journey of about 1,200 km. We had seen 2 before we reached the tunnel – one a Frenchman from Bordeaux who has lived in Cambodia for 7 years with whom we chatted – and 2 more on the other side.
The descent was much steeper than the climb had been (hurray!) and soon led us to Shikoku-Chuo, which is not the prettiest place in the world it has to be said(!) being a major producer of paper. The plan had been to stay at the youth hostel but Christine had seen that it was “up a hill” and, remembering the climb to the previous hostel, we were both eager to see if the first hotel we saw on the flat was a reasonable price. It was. And it had an onsen as described above.
Christine had lost her bike computer on the descent (it had been knocked out of its mount precisely at the time she was crossing a river – Sod’s Law strikes again) so Stephen proudly showed one of his laminated signs provided by Mickey and Hado (“Where is the nearest bike shop?”) to the lady on reception.
Well blow me down! She pointed to a building on the other side of the road and, when we made our way over there, we found a replacement. How lucky was that?
Later we set off walking to the station to get ourselves sorted for the next day’s expedition on the train (details to follow) using a “stylised” (= inaccurate!) map from the hotel. Half an hour later we were floundering around in the back streets of Shikoku-Chuo not really sure of where we were so we asked a couple of ladies picking up their children from a kindergarten. After a lengthy discussion and unsuccessful consulting of smartphones one of them offered (via sign language and the odd mutually understandable word) to drive us to the station. Another example of the wonderful kindness of the Japanese people.
Having ascertained the necessary train details we managed to find our way back to the hotel where we again dined on a selection of different goodies from the local supermarket. (We have set up a page of photos showing some of the more unusual foods we have seen and eaten – click here.)