Monday, December 17, 2012

Nippon Extremities: Hokkaido II

August 4, 1997

...late start out of Sapporo.  Jordan and I took a bus out to Furano, where we found that we'd gone to the wrong place and had to wait an hour for the next train.  We ate lunch to kill time, but our orders took so damn long that we nearly missed that train too.  Once in KamiFurano, we found that we had another long wait, this time two hours for the bus.  We decided to walk part of the way, trying to hitch as we headed up the main road out of town.  After about thirty minutes,  we had had no luck and it was starting to sprinkle.  The roof of a 7-11 offered us shelter, and since the bus stop was just in front, we could stand here and thumb as we waited for the bus.

After another hour of this, we finally resigned ourselves to taking the bus.  We saw it coming up the hill, and just as it was upon us, a car pulled up, the driver saying that if we going as far as Tokachi-dake Onsen, we could ride with him.  The bus was literally honking for us to get out of the way as we piled into the car and drove off.

Our driver was a really nice guy, a former resident of Yokohama who had dreams of being an elementary school teacher, but was now working close-by in a pachinko parlor.  We had an interesting talk with as he went well out of his way to find us a good spot for camping.  We asked him what he was doing with his day, and he said that he was planning a quiet weekend with his girlfriend and was trying to find a good place to stay.  He mentioned that he had heard of a new lodge that had opened nearby, and thought that we should all go together to check it out.  If we didn't like it, he'd take us to Tokachi-dake, as we'd originally planned.

When we arrived at Fukiage Onsen, Jordan and I eyeballed the tent sites, beautifully groomed like a football field.  But our driver had other ideas.  Ten years ago he'd taken six months to bike the length of Japan, and after encountering some minor trouble, a stranger had shown him great kindness.  In this spirit, he paid for a rented room for us, then handed each of us a 10,000 yen note, saying that it was now up to us to help someone in the future.  Both J. and I were amazed, later joking that this guy had been carrying this burden for ten long years, and was now free to once more be a complete asshole, shouting out "Hey, Fuck You!" at hitchers that he'd pass on the drive home.  Naturally J. and I expounded a great deal on karma and Buddhist compassion.

The lodge itself was beautiful, very rustic with bunk beds, a full kitchen, and outdoor onsen.  We walked down the road a bit to some outdoor baths cut into the side of a rocky streambed.  Hot water pouring from the earth was cooled slightly by the waterfalls alongside.  The majority of the people bathed nude, but since there were a few old women about, we remained in our skivvies, unlike the rest of the men there.  The upper pool was kettle hot, holding only a couple of old men who no doubt had a half century's worth of callus-building hot spring training.  J. and I took instead the lower pool, sitting until well after dark, then walked back in awe of the purity of the silence.

Back at the lodge, we ate dinner on the outer patio and looked at the glowing red and blue pyramids out in the tent site.  Going to the onsen, I made a quick succession of gaijin faux pas: walking out of the bathroom in toilet slippers, nearly forgetting to wash before bathing, and almost walking naked into the mixed bathing area.  It was incredibly pleasant to drink beer in the rotemburo, as the moths buzzed around our heads like flurries of snow.

Before turning in, I stood out on the balcony, watching a fox scurry around below, feeding the superstitious fears of the Japanese around me...

On the turntable:  Gerry Mulligan, "Mulligan meets Mulligan"
On the nighttable:  Daniel Pinchbeck, "2012:  The Return of Quetzalcoatl"


blaine said...

I liked these Hokkaido posts. I'm headed there this winter for some skiing and such.

Not sure I'll make it there in warmer weather though.

The 露天風呂 are calling my name.

ted said...

The onsen I wrote about here was most excellent. Even after 15 years, still the benchmark...