My host family dropped me off here a little before 5 pm. I was immediately greeted by the staff, all dressed in traditional yacatas (casual robes belted at the waist.) Generally, like all Japanese, these were women with small statures. They are smiling, speak almost no English and are taking my bags. I feel rather bad that my bag is so heavy. They check me in and are showing me to my room. This room is slightly larger and much nicer than our last traditional Japanese room. On the tea table in the center of the room (remember-no beds here) is a cookie. This is a little rare as the Japanese eat very little sweets and meals are not served with the thought of a dessert. The Japanese lady is rushing around, talking in Japanese and I think she wants me to sit down at the tea table. She goes to the closet and pulls out a yacata that I think I am to put on. I later heard that she was suppose to put it on me. Hmmmm. Missed that clue. She poured me a cup of tea, bowed her way out and left. Well, this is nice. Hmmm. What to do. I am to have two other roommates to share the floor with but they are not here yet. I finish my tea, study the beautiful Zen gardens from the balcony and realize, this is going to be awesome. I go walking to get my bearings of where I am.
I find the public bath and learn there are actually a couple. I also learn that the main one is connected to one outdoors and you can sit out there as well in a part of the Zen Garden. As my roommates arrive, we continue to walk around and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. In fact, we get our cameras and take several photos of us in the surroundings. Everywhere we look our guests not dressed in street clothes but all have on the yacatas, men and women alike. The public bath is definitely on for tonight. Traditional dinner at 7everyone wear your yacatas and slippers.
Dinner is served in a large banquet room but all the tables and seats are set on the floor in a horseshow for twenty two people. Slippers are left outside the door of course, and we are seated at already arranged individual tables on the floor. There is a hibachi on each table, with several plates and bowls. There are no napkins of course, as napkins are not used in Japan; just a wet cloth to wipe your hands first before eating. There is raw fish on one of the plates in different colors. Very attractive for raw fish and there is a full fish with head and eyes open. I think we cook him but not sure. The drinks are first to arrive. We can have all the beverages we wish of beer or sake. It doesnt take long for the party to begin. I sit directly across from the male teacher from Russia. I call him Big Buddha because he is big and when he sits on the floor, he resembles a Buddha. The tag stuck as most people call him that. It actually warmed people up to him. He has had some practice at this drinking. I am sitting between two party girls, but I drink Coke every other drink. This is one of those beautiful dinners where I recognize almost nothing. I am now struggling to get through meals like this. This one is a little more challenging though as the staff is preparing food for us individually at our places and putting plates on; taking them off and there must be eleven courses to this meal. Because in Japan, people dont waste food, they never took my plates until I pushed them on them. I felt sort of bad, but I could eat no more unrecognizable, raw food.
This is BIG BUDDHA.
With the dinner over, there was some discussion of what to do for the evening. Some wanted to do karoke, some wanted to check out the Pachinko parlor. I am afraid I was in the latter. Not bothering to change from our yacatas, we walked several blocks to the Pachinko Parlor. It doesnt take long to waste ten bucks as a game almost of pure chance. Some people stopped at five dollars but I was sure there was something I was missing. There wasnt. This was no fun. And it was a bit smokey. We took the long way home (by accident) and arrived in time for the public baths. The walk wouldnt have been so bad had I not had on traditional wooden platform shoes. Not a good choice for several blocks of walking.
We met at the public bath. I dont know if I have described this before but when you walk in, you walk into a locker room where all clothing is removed and you are left with a very small white towel. Some people wrap the towel around them but for most Americans, it wont reach. You now enter the room where the bath is and around the perimeter of the room are short, three legged stools in front of a low shower. You sit on the stool and take a complete shower before getting into the bath. The bath is a large, shallow rectangle of hot water in the center of a room. Usually there are several people already in it. You relax in the bath until it is too hot and you cant take it anymore, then you get out. This bath connected to a natural bath outside where you could sit on rocksnot smooth I might add, in or out of the water. The cool temperature of the air allowed you to be able to do the bath longer. It was fabulous.
We were still very hot when we finished so we put our yacatas back on and went out to sit in the Zen Garden until the staff told us they were locking up and we had to come in. With nothing left to do, we retired to our rooms where my roommates were already asleep and they left me the bed right in the middle. Way to go, buddies.
The next morning, we were to go back to the room where we had dinner for breakfast. As soon as I took one look at the fish looking at me, I ate the rice but that is all I could handle and left. Beautiful presentation, though, yes?
I knew we had a couple of hours before we left for the airport so I grabbed a few friends and we went on the search for coffee. We only had to travel about a block until we found a coffee house that happened to have some antique jewelry for sale. Coffee and shopping! What could be better? We unloaded our wallets, and walked around the streets for about an hour until it was time to go. Here are a couple new teenage friends we met in the lobby.
The ryokan staff gave us their traditional goodbye on the bus. The stood outside the hotel waving and waving and waving until the bus was out of sight. The little hotel staff ladies loved Big Buddha and he wanted to give them a gift. I had two no-complaint purple bracelets left and they were so thrilled they hugged and kissed him.
Here are the Sakai folks saying farewell.
We drive to the airport and wait for our plane that takes us back to Tokyo. While waiting, we are served a 'box' lunch. This is probably the prettiest one of all and I still have the basket.
Bill is a little out of control on the plane making animal sounds--he is sitting behind me.
Our trip is almost at an end. I feel anxious as the more I have learned, the more I realize I do not know about this exotic, gentle country. I am worried I will miss something that was a must and will hear about it on the plane on the way home.