Saturday, December 20, 2008

Kimonos in Kyoto, Japanese hot springs

I spent a morning walking through the Higashiyama section of Kyoto, where the traditional wooden buildings still stand. Because the U.S. government considered Kyoto as a potential target for the A-bomb, we didn't drop traditional bombs there. Seeing the beauty of Kyoto today gives me a greater appreciation for what was lost when Hiroshima was flattened.
I am enjoying discovering the austere ascetic of Japan - the simple wooden buildings with sliding doors and paper windows, the carefully designed entryways, and the beautiful, beautiful gardens and ponds. Everything is simple and beautiful, not crowded with ornamentation.

I sat in Maruyama park, in the sun before a beautiful duck pond fed by a small waterfall. The red and orange fall leaves were reflected on the water's surface. Maple leaves are smaller in Japan, and brilliant! People walked by, teens in stylish clothes, elderly people, women of all ages in kimonos.

Taiwanese tourists dressed as Japanese. I asked, in Japanese, if I could take their picture and they answered in English. (they didn't speak Japanese).

A couple getting wedding photos taken in Kyoto

And American man was busking on a nearby park bench. He and his wife came to Japan twenty years ago to look for work teaching English, but he ended up busking instead, and he has been able to make a living that way for many years! As we chatted, a Japanese man dropped 1,000 yen, more than US $10, in the busker's guitar case and requested "Country Roads." Too bad I can't play an instrument!

I visited my first onsen, or Japanese hot spring. It was right in the middle of Kyoto, in a wood and stone building with a reed-covered floor. As in most Japanese establishments, guests leave their shoes at the door. Japanese onsens have one section for women, and another for men. The lockers are free, and bathers leave everything in thelockers except for soap and shampoo and sometimes a wash cloth, necessary for the thorough showering that everyone does before getting into the baths. (Japanese people are so clean, it leaves me wondering whether they think that we are pigs! Itsumi assures me that they don't).

cold water pool

The shower heads are at waist level, and one showers while squatting or sitting on a small plastic stool, using the showerhead and a bucket. It's important to complete this step well, as foreigners apparently have a reputation for soaking without a thorough cleaning! Bathing suits are prohibited, and everyone bathe naked. Apparently some foreigners, feeling modest, have tried to soak while wrapped in towels. There is a sign asking people not to do this! Nudity is required! (Itsumi adds that this is because Japanese people are obsessed with cleanliness, not with seeing each other naked!)

The onsen I visited had several baths, some indoors and some outdoors. My favorite were the two outdoor pools, built of stone, one with hot water and the other cold, for those of us who like to alternate. For me, this is heaven!

Since the Kyoto onsen, Itsumi and I stayed in a hotel in Osaka that had a beautiful onsen on the top floor, with an outdoor pool on the rooftop! And we've also discovered a wonderful public bath, or sento, near Itsumi's apartment. The sento has many pools with massage jets, placed perfectly for massaging feet, shoulders, etc., and also a pool with electrical current running through it. This one is a little much for me, but maybe I'll work up to it!

No comments: