April 4, 2008

A Trip To Arima

Friday was a usual school day for the kids and Mike had to work. Ilena decided to take Matthew up to Arima, a town up in one of the nearby mountains, that is famous for its ancient onsens (Japanese hot springs). It was quite a series of connecting trains, but after about 5 trains, they made it there.

The mountain air was clean and crisp, it was clearly a real town - not just put there for the benefit of tourists. Ilena and her brother wandered around this quaint town with cobblestone-lined streets for a while before stopping at Kin-No-Yu, an onsen where you can soak in "Kinsen" water. The water there has a reddish brown color as it's made up of rich, oxidized iron. With a temperature of 42-44 degrees Celsius (107-111 Farenheit), it was sure to keep anyone nice and warm.

The tradition of bathing in an onsen is similar to that of soaking in a hot tub back home, however, here in Japan there is nothing worn into the bath. One must remove all their clothes and cleanse thoroughly before entering the bath as the onsen is "clean water." Though with temperatures that hot, we were quite sure the water would take care of any remaining impurities pretty quickly. So Matthew and Ilena (in separate baths) stripped down, showered up, and entered the onsen. It was quite a shock stepping into the hot water, and most people seemed to go in and out several times during their bathing ritual.

An older Japanese man befriended Matthew, making sure that he was comfortable with the whole concept of entering the bath naked. He also engaged Matthew in another supposedly traditional custom of bathing another person's back. Who knows? So he scrubbed Matthew's back and vice versa. Ilena kept her back to herself and just enjoyed her time of peaceful soaking.

Once they were all soaked out, and feeling rather dehydrated, they ventured to find a restaurant which was recommended by one of Ilena's friends. Matthew and Ilena enjoyed their first "Kobe Beef" as part of a steamed lunch set with Kamameshi. It was quite delicious - definitely an experience as they dined on the floor on tatami mats and sipped traditional Japanese tea.

After lunch, they explored some more of the varied local stores. One trademark of the Arima area is a sweet cracker called Tansan Senbei. These crackers are actually made with water from the carbonic spring (Ginsen), which Matthew and Ilena didn't have a chance to visit today. We'll have to get back to Arima another time to try the other type of onsen, "ginsen", which is a carbonic acid spring. They did sample several of these crackers and brought some back as souvenirs.

It was a wonderfully relaxing day and Ilena can't wait to bring Mike back there someday soon.

Friday night, Mike had dinner plans with his Dad and some other people from work, so Ilena and Matthew took the kids out to dinner at a local tofu buffet which was quite delicious. The kids will eat anything if they don't know what they're eating!

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