Today started early, as expected. We were supposed to take a 2-leg journey from Hiroshima to Yufuin, a smaller, rural town in southern Japan. We got through the first leg, in Hakata, when we were prevented from continuing on to the second leg. The train we were supposed to take was evidently not covered by our rail pass and, to make matters worse, was sold out. So even if we wanted to buy a ticket, we couldn’t. So we went to the ticket booth to inquire, but she spoke very little English. I asked about the return train tomorrow, but she said that was sold out, too. This meant we would’ve had to take three (I think) trains from Hakata to Yufuin, which would take longer. And we would have had to do that tomorrow, which was already going to be a 10-hour travel day.
But this part of the trip was to be our Onsen experience. The onsens are hot springs that are said to have healing powers as a result of all of the minerals in them. Onsens served as traditional Japanese bathing places, back in the day. We initially thought that they were all outdoors, so we had it in our head that we would sit outdoors, in the hot water, and gaze upon some pretty scenes. But then we realized that those are less common than what are now referred to as “public baths”. Many hotels have them attached. They can be more like a hot tub (but still with the special mineral-y water) or some are just glorified bath tubs. We were very much looking forward to the outdoor onsens, so that’s why we chose Yufuin. It’s an area of the country known for them.
I left the decision up to Loren whether we continued on the longer journey to Yufuin or whether we changed our plans. We had about 10 mins before the next train south that would have taken us on our journey. We got in line and just as we were able to board the train, Loren decided not to go. So we sat down and started researching other train routes/times and then decided we should just go. So we got up and that was the moment that the train pulled away! We sat for awhile and looked at hotels up in Osaka and Kyoto and tried to find other onsens in those areas. We came up empty with the onsens. So we decided we would get on the next shinkansen (bullet train) north.
We went to that train’s platform and did more research. We knew that our friends Tove and Liz were going to be in Kyoto tonight and we found a good priced hotel, so we pulled the trigger. We did not get a refund on our room in Yufuin, we would’ve had to have canceled before the day of. But I had a free night (or significant amount toward a free night), so this room isn’t costing us much. We then spent several hours on the train, but I am introducing Loren to Downton Abbey, so the time flew by.
Once in Kyoto, we checked into our hotel and then went back to the train station (1-2 blocks) to have McDonald’s. Aside from breakfast in Hiroshima this morning, all I had eaten was almonds and some Ritz crackers with cheese. Loren decided to eat as well, as we thought we weren’t meeting Liz and Tove for dinner for a couple hours. After that we went back to the shopping mall we frequented last week. We met the girls only an hour later for sushi at a rotating sushi restaurant. We had been wanting to try one but hadn’t seen it. It was right in the train station but for some reason we never noticed it before!
So I finally really tried sushi. Nothing too crazy. I tried a lobster salad roll, which was tasty. Then I had shrimp tempura (with rice), then shrimp and avocado, and finally crab salad. So I basically had two meals in a row, but I’m glad I tried it. I didn’t get wild (I passed on the horsemeat…what???), but I’m glad I tried that stuff! Maybe I will have another chance before the trip is over.
We then went to the neighborhood where the girls were staying because they saw a good craft beer place. After one drink we went in search of sake. We found a place that appeared to have a lot of sake, as there were tons of bottles out front in a sort of display. This was a place where we had to remove our shoes, which was a first for us. Then we were seated at a table in its own little cubby and where we sat almost on the ground. They only had one kind of sake, which was strange, but we all tried it. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it was much better than the hot stuff we had in Tokyo. It was a great time to hang out with Liz and Tove!!
After dinner and drinks Loren and I returned to our hotel to take advantage of the free drink and the public bath. That’s right. Unbeknownst to us, I booked a hotel that had a bath. We found that our when we checked in. So we got into our Japanese pajamas and slippers and headed over. It was pretty intimidating because there were several other women there. You have to go into the bath room with nothing but your towel, shower at little sit-down shower stalls that have opaque walls, wash yourself, then enter the bath. Loren went first from the shower to the bath and I followed. We sat in it (much like a hot tub) for about 15-20 mins, hoping the healing powers would work! Then we took turns getting out, showering, and returning to the locker room. It was definitely something that fits my travel mantra: do the thing you’re supposed to do in the place you’re supposed to do it. And it was also outside of my comfort zone!
Not bad for a completely altered day!!