Once we arrived at the Green Hotel in Takayama, we were given instructions on proper etiquet on how to act in a ryokan (traditional Japanese style inn). You must remove your shoes and either walk around barefoot or with socks once you enter in the room. The hotel was a very traditional tatami mat room. We slept on Japanese futon, which is very different from American style futon. When entering the bathroom, you must wear special slippers. Because the hotel is a spa resort, we needed to wear yukata (spa kimono) when walking around the hotel.
After we learned who our roommates were and handed the key, we headed up to our room to put away our things and wear yukata. I had 3 other girls staying in my room with me. We put the yukata on and headed down to the lobby for our tour of the facilities. We were taken to the onsen (hot spring) area and split up the girls from the guys. If you don't already know, you bath in an onsen completely naked and with other women. We headed back to the locker area and shown where you undress and were you go to wash yourself before and after dipping in the onsen and also where to dry off. I don't think one of the old japanese ladies like a bunch of American girls observing the onsen all at once because she immediately gave us the stink eye and slowly covered herself up with a towel. After the tour we headed to the dining area for dinner that they told us was free of charge, but really it's something I have already paid for in advance. There was an abundance of food! I only had the stomach room to take a bite of each item. It was very filling.
After dinner, a few of us girls decided that we would try the onsen. A couple of the girls were afraid to go and the guide told us with a huge smile on her face that if we were shy then we can cover ourselves with the towel then remove the towel when we enter the spa. Alright, seems easy enough right? No. No no no no noooooo. It was not like that at all! Ppl covered themselves, but there is no way that a hand towel can cover every part of you. We get there and head to the locker area and undress. All of us shy girls covered ourselves as best we could with the towel and headed to the shower area. There were a bunch of naked ladies sitting on benches in front of mirrors washing and spraying themselves with a removeable shower head. I was unsure of what to do and the worker understood that. She came up to me and started instructing really quick in Japanese instructions of what to do. I understood most of what she said based on her actions. She showed me that I wash myself with the hand towel that I brought in, then once I rinsed it out I fold it up and place it on my head to help absorb the heat from my body while in the spa. After you shower with a bunch of naked ladies, you kind of don't care about modesty anymore. The natives do this all the time and took no notice. If they did stare, it was more because we are American than anything else.
The onsen is 40 degrees centigrade, which means that it's Arizona weather hot. And it was really hot! I don't even take showers in that kind of hot water. Onsen is really good for arthritis and neck and back issues. My back had been hurting from the bus ride all day and after the onsen, I felt great. You get comfortable with sitting in a hot pool filled with naked ladies real quick. It was very relaxing.
After showering I headed back to the lockers to dry off and put my clothes back on. A Japanese girl approached me and asked me how I was so slender if I lived in America. Most of the girls on this program are typical american sized but compared to Japanese women, they are on the larger side. She asked me this in English and I hope that none of the other girls heard what she said. I just smiled and told her I am vegetarian and figure skate a lot. She asked if many Americans wear tanktops in the summer. I told her especially in Arizona. She said she envied me and my shapely arms. Aparently, Japanese women think that their arms are not shaped right to wear tank tops. I told her that her arms looked shapely to me and that she should try it just once to see if she liked it. She refused saying that her arms are too fat. I don't know what she was talking about.
After blow drying my hair I headed back to the room to go to sleep. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out. This morning we had a breakfast buffet. There was also a western style buffet. The tour guide told me to take advantage of it because most places do not have western food. I headed over eager to fill my stomach with familar flavors. I got in line and picked up some pineapple, some orange slices, and wait, salad?? and pasta salad, potato salad? Fried chicken and french fries? What is this? What do they think we eat for breakfast? This was a lunch buffet not a breakfast. So I left with my fruit and a hard boiled egg and picked up some soup and rice and found a table. I heard there was orange juice so I got up to get some and low and behold there are corn flakes! Praise Jesus! The cereal bowl was one fifth the size of a normal bowl and the spoon was tiny. I didn't care. I picked up a bowl and began filling it with corn flakes. A japanese kid was watching with wide eyes. They don't eat cereal with milk. They just add sugar and some cream. So me drenching it in milk was a surprise to him. As I turned to leave with my juice and cereal, he began copying what I just did. My stomach felt so happy as I swollowed the familiar food! My stomach is feeling kind of unsettled with eating nothing but soy based products and hard flavors in food. It's working too hard. The cereal was a huge releaf to it.
We checked out of the hotels then headed out to visit Asa-ichi morning market and city. We went into an imperial temple and saw all the rooms and what the purpose was for each one. Because the place is considered sacred, we needed to remove our shoes and carry them in a plastic bag. We could only walk in our socks. Then we came up to the museum of artifacts and we were not allowed to take pictures. After the temple, we walked through the morning market. Its equivallent to a farmers market. These were the first people I encoundered that assumed we knew Japanese. They were so very nice and slowly spoke to us so it was easy to understand. I bought some apple juice and it taste soooo much better than apple juice back home. It was so good! Everyone bought a can of the juice from one nice old lady. Alot of the ppl made us try samples of all their food. It was fun.
We walked around the old town. If you have seen Memoirs of a Geisha, then you have a basic idea of what this place looks like. I tried honey lemon juice. It was really sweet. It's simple to make too. You very thinnly slice lemons and layer lemons, honey, lemons, honey in a jar until it is all the way filled. Then you leave it for a few days and shake it every once in a while. Then the lemons will shrink in size so much so that you will be able to eat the grind and all because the honey made it sweet. And the juice is what you have left. It's simple, and very delicious.
We went to a museum of machine replicas of festival dances. They were elaborate and beautiful. After the museum we had the biggest freaken lunch in the world! there must have been 16 different dishes! I got too full before I could try everything. After lunch we decided to go to the bathroom. We just weren't expecting all but 2 stalls to be the holes in the ground. I'm not quite sure I'm ready for the hole in the ground so I waited for a toilet.
Next we went to Shirokawa-go. It means white river village. It's a collection of original farm houses from late 17 and early 18 centuries that they have preserved for viewing purposes. On the location, you must be very quite because there are family farmers that still ocupy some of those houses. Also, the buses are not allowed to have air conditioning and must park farther away from the farms as to reduce fumes from the gas. It was a very peaceful location. There are koi fish everywhere. In every single lake I have seen there have been koi fish. And morning glories. Morning glory flowers are native to Japan. THey are absolutely beautiful! They are in all kinds of vibrant colors. One of God's best creations.
After the village we headed to a veiwing area for a group picture and rest top until the long drive to Matsumoto. We spoke to the store clerks and told them we were from America and they were so happy and surprized to see so many of us. They got even more surprized when we told them we were all college students. They don't have any such exchange programs in Japan. It's all individual if they want to study abroad. They were jealous of our advantage.
Once we arrived at Matsumoto Tokyu Inn I get my roommate (who is the same roommate I had in Narita) and we ate dinner. OK, so when I applied I indicated that I am pescatarian meaning I am vegetarian but I eat fish, and somehow to the employees at this inn, that means vegan. So needless to say, I had a crappy dinner. It consisted of cantalope, broccoli, beans, leafy things, tofu, and rice. Yeah, I only like tofu if it has some sort of seasoning, no just plain! The beans were cold and some of green things I have never seen before. They were crystal like and popped in my mouth as I ate them. And I hate cantalope and broccoli. So I pretty much just ate rice. But that's ok. I'm still pretty full from lunch.
More to come tomorrow!