Saturday, April 19, 2014

Spiriting Away

When the Robot show was over, I was pretty much ready to leave Tokyo.  I didn't get to see everything I would have liked, but I came damn close.  The fact is, though, you can't "do" Tokyo in a few days, or really even a month.  I think to really see a city as big and complex as Tokyo you need to live there, get to know it a little at a time...but I guess that's true of anywhere.  That's what drew me into this life and made a hopeless wanderer of me.
Every theme park needs animated characters - these were from a series called Tiger & Bunny
In spite of the fact that I'm a prudish (stop choking on your laughter, Domestic Goddess), most decidedly FAT American, I love public bathing.  I've done it in Korea, Turkey, China (it's not really a Chinese thing, but they like their Korean dramas, so the few Korean saunas in Shanghai did quite well), and even in Kyoto, my first trip in Japan (an electrifying experience - literally!  I visited one of the onsen Lonely Planet recommended, and it had an electric bath, which gave you a shock, sitting in it).

I took a lot of baths during this trip - the B&B Pension, where I stayed in Hakone, gave me a discount pass for the Yunessun onsen, which I made good use of, and my ryokan in Tokyo had their own Japanese style bath.  Under normal circumstances, I probably wouldn't have gone to Oedo Onsen World, but it let me get "close" to the airport, while giving me something to do through the wee small hours before checking in for my flight.  I took one of the newer lines of the Tokyo metro, which went over a bridge to the artificial islands in the bay, and gave me a great view of the city (something which I hadn't seen yet) before letting me off a block from the "bathing theme park."  It was one of the weirdest experiences I've had with public bathing thus far.

In the initial changing area you leave your street clothes and change into a yukata.  I thought this would be a vast improvement over the "uniform" you wear at Korean jjimjjilbangs, whose shorts have lately, inexplicably become too tight on me...  The top part of the women's yukata fit me fine, but my hips are apparently "fuller" than your typical Japanese woman's.  So I took it back and asked if I could try the men's largest size.  When they finally got permission for me to do that - heaven forbid I cross-dress in a piece of clothing that's essentially unisex! - I went back to the changing area to try again.  Not surprisingly, I am also hippier than your typical Japanese man.  >le sigh<  Fortunately I had a pair of leggings, and if I looked a little weird, well, I guess that's truth in advertising.

I thought about trying a couple of new things on the blog during my time in Tokyo.  There are times when a camera can't actually capture what the moment is like, or when you're not allowed to take pictures, and to remedy this, I decided to try writing more lyrically, and to make drawings.  Except I didn't get around to doing the drawings I was going to do of the steam swirling up from the outdoor, rock-lined baths under the moonlight.  Being naked in a huge pool of hot spring water with the night air cooling your skin as you look up at the stars is amazing, but you'll have to imagine it.  Heck, if you get to Oedo Onsen World late enough, you'll have to imagine it, even though you can see it just outside from the indoor baths - they lock up the outside part at midnight.  That was kind of a raw deal - while the actual baths are gender segregated, there is an outdoor area with doctor fish and a walking bath and other cool stuff that I didn't get to try.  The whole point of going there was that they were open through the night, but I wish I could have had a little more time before the closed down those areas.
Instead I had the indoor part to explore, which was decorated to look like an old Japanese town from whatever era.  There are shops and restaurants in this part, and several of them were still open, even after midnight.  It seemed like an awfully long time since my shabu-shabu supper at that point, so I had an order of gyoza and an order of edamame, neither of which I'd had by then.  The gyoza was fine, but I was shocked that the edamame were served cold!  Our sushi place here in UB, Miko, serves them warm, but when I got back and asked Blondie she said that they're prepared differently depending on the season. 

In case you are in Tokyo and thinking this is a good way to kill time before an early flight, you should know that there are shuttles that go from Onsen World to both Haneda and Narita, but apparently you have to make a reservation.  I only found out about them when I was checking in, but the man who told me said that it would be okay, and that the bus is at 3:50.  When I left around then, I asked again, and was told that no, I needed a reservation.  Not only was that disappointing, the extra time at the onsen cost me - 1600 yen, I think? - and I had to pay for a taxi still, too.  I'd planned to take a taxi, anyways - and it cost me 6000 yen! - but I would have left earlier and saved myself a little bit of money if I'd known I couldn't take the bus.

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