Sunday, November 14, 2010

Matsuno Onsen, (松の温泉 水香園)

As I said below, today was hiking day. The mountains that ring Tokyo are nowhere near as high as the ones that you get a little farther out (they don't call those 'Alps' for nothing), but there's still some good autumn color and soothing vistas (as long as you don't look toward Tokyo, where the suburban landscape spreads across the valley floors and impinges a bit on the view).

This picture is poor, isn't it? Should have chemically enhanced it before posting. Too late. No edits.

The goal was to climb Takamizusan. At 759m, you may be thinking that's a very achievable goal, and I agree, but what do you want for a day trip that also includes an onsen and a big dinner? This is a nice mountain with mostly wooded trails. I'd like to get out and do some of the trails through the Alps in the summer, above the tree line, but...that's a lot of hiking.

We'll see.

To me, it's a bonus that you get to start and finish the hikes out here on quiet country roads. I love the gnarled landscape of houses, roads, trees and gardens that covers everything. The houses are completely industrial and unlovely - the newest ones are mostly Showa, and if they're that old they're usually badly-built, rusting and decaying away - but somehow the way they fit low to the ground and hug the contours without too much re-grading makes the Japanese construction blight feel like part of the landscape.

Never thought about it that way before. I can't tell if I'm being profound or bullshitting.

Amazingly, our hike finished right near Matsuno Onsen, which is a cool little spot tucked in between the valley road and the river. Everything around here is steep, including the parking lot.

This place put me in mind of another one I went to years ago, in Yunishigawa outside Nikko. It was 10 degrees in Tokyo, but in that valley it snowed non-stop. I had the two best baths of my experience there; one at night where a series of outdoor pools followed a stone path down to the river, the other the next morning where everyone else was at breakfast and I could sit outside, looking at the river while snow fell on me. And sitting by the window in the room at night, drinking sake with the window open and blankets on, that was nice too.

I stayed here. I remember the cost performance as dismal, but we booked through JTB. Now that I'm looking on Jalan it's not so bad. McNoonan recommends this place. Anyone want to go this year? Other than me?

Enough reverie; Matsunoyu isn't very big, but it has a lot of attractive scenery. You can eat there too, if you book ahead and don't mind paying quite a bit for mediocre food, or the difficult journey back to town.

I mind, and I think you do too. But the inn that this is the baths for, Suikoen, looks pretty.

Did someone say 'koyo'? The single best tree I saw all day was guarding the entry to the bathhouse. The signage was funny too - instead of 'men' and 'women', the kanji were 'lords' and 'princesses'. Let me just check that...Yeah, that's right - 殿 and 姫. With no other signage, it took me a sec to realize which bath was for men. Tip for young players - the women's bath signage is usually pink or red, as it was today. Pretty funny to think about it now - the only Lord there was the 80-year-old geography professor with visible cataracts who wanted to practice his English.

Good luck with that.

After bathing and before completing the arduous slog up the hill and back to the station (things seemed a lot harder after an hour in the bath; everything was fuzzy for me, and I even struggled to get dressed), you can admire this little rest area. Everything you need - tatami mats, charcoal burner, tea, storage...you could live here and be happy.

As long as you had snacks.



This became the 'closing quip' post. I'm not sure how it happened, but after two paragraphs where I had something extra to say, it just seemed like every one needed its own aside at the end.

Even this one.
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