Sunday, February 21, 2010

Onsen, Kamiyamada

The Chikuma River valley is narrow here, which makes for some nice views. On the west side, right above Kamiyamada, there's a big Kannon temple (a branch of Nagano's famous Zenkoji) that's lit up a bit at night. If you're feeling industrious, you can walk up there from a road at the south end of Kamiyamada's onsen district. I'll spare you the picture showing the two signs at the bottom of the hill - 'Watch for Falling Rocks' and '18% grade' - and just throw in a picture of the temple. It was pretty dull as these things go, so I don't recommend it. The other attraction up there is the (very ruined) ruins of a castle, but once I got there I realized that there was an admission fee, and in a fit of pique I just left.

Back down on the ground, I took yet more pictures of faded objects. These retro signs were great.

It's not actually a restaurant, but out of completeness I wanted to include the two onsen that I visited. This is in addition to the surprisingly nice natural onsen at the low-end business hotel where I stayed. On the first night, when I asked someone to recommend an onsen, he said 'Eh, you should just stay in the hotel. That's a nice bath.' True, but not that nice. This sign is nice too, but no relation to either onsen.






First, and better of the two, Zuishou ('Good Sign'). When I had my morning coffee on Saturday, this was the place the old woman recommended. I think they described themselves as a 'super sento', meaning it's a community bath but with lots of extra features. True enough!

Very much in the country sento mold though. You don't get a lot of the frills that you might from a ryokan. That said, Zuishou had indoors a big bath with lots of rock features and a small waterfall, a small jet bath, and a dry sauna. Outside there was a normal rotenburo, a shallow bath with banks appropriate for laying down for long periods, and two pot baths (hot and cold, I think). It also bears mention that the water was exactly to my tastes. Judging by the fact that the 42 shown on the thermometers at the other place I went seemed a touch hot, I'd say these were 41 or 40. Note to self.

I liked the lobby - a touch of Nagano ski country chic. Didn't investigate the food hall, which I assume has nothing worth writing about (though I often write about things that aren't worth writing about), but I did investigate and covet the 1.8l bottles of fresh apple juice. I toyed with the idea of taking one home, or drinking it on the spot, but no.

As I was completing my final decompression phase in the lobby, a woman who was clearly the manager (age, dress, manager) came over and said 'So, did you talk to a woman this morning?' I couldn't figure out what she meant, but she tried again and it became clear that the woman at the coffee shop who recommended the place to me had been her neighbor, and was currently eating lunch in the dining room. Not a big town. Mama brought me a glass of the apple juice that I had been admiring, so I can sort of justify writing this up.

That was Saturday. Sunday morning at opening time, I went to Kame no Yu (Turtle Spa, more or less). This was a bit less grand (and half the price, but no need to quibble over Y300). Inside there was a smallish, punishingly hot bath as well as a two-person jet bath. Outside was a funny semicircular rotenburo and a hot kamaburo. In the interests of getting my yu on, I spent a long time in these baths, getting out of the roten to stand around watching my skin smoke in the cold air (8 or 9 degrees) and look longingly at the crumbs of snow remaining on the rocks around the yard. A particularly nice touch was the encouragement they provided to keep people from climbing on said rocks - barbed wire.

That was too much yu, and I was well and truly boiled. Needing to rest up before walking back to the station (I figured 30 minutes minimum; it was more since I got lost), I had a restorative milk while forgetting to take any better pictures. It wasn't as nice as Zuisho though. Funny, this was Yatsugatake milk. I'm pretty sure I've been there, but I can't figure out what the place is called. You know where they have the little museum dedicated to the European guy who came to Japan and introduced dairy farming? Around Kobuchizawa? Wringing any bellz? No?

Maybe this will be more familiar - old buildings!

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