I’ve been paralyzed most the day, unable to really try to accomplish anything. I’ve looked at my MacBook Pro and checked the same web pages for updates. I’ve looked at my Mac Pro monitor and checked my access logs, downloaded k.d. lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” I watched the opening ceremonies of the Vancouver Winter Olympics. But I have, to this point, been too lethargic to do anything other than sit and expect to be entertained. So I did what every good, uninspired, lonely person does in Japan. I packed up my Japanese homework, my laptop, and relocated to Starbucks. So now I am listen to Sigur Ros on my iTouch, have my iPhone for internet access in case I need a quick Facebook fix, and I’m typing away on my MacBook Pro. At all times a walking advertisement for all things Apple, glad that I have a friend working there and happy to be supporting a company who’s stock I own. Go Apple! [I’d like to add that the two people near me also have iPhones. Whoever thought they would be a big failure in Japan was definitely wrong.]
Anyway, so the change in scenery was supposed to focus me on working on my blog. The past few weeks have been grueling. I’m on a cycle now where I’ve got major deadlines every two weeks and towards the end of the two week period I have late night and early morning teleconferences, and average about 4 hours of sleep. Plus, my usual work does not go away either. It is not sustainable, and I hope that our team is improving after each event so that we can minimize the crazy schedule. Now I am in a situation where I am working a lot and I’ve reached my maximum allowable vacation hours, so either I take the vacation or a lose it. Nothing worse than losing vacation. Every time I try to take a day off to not lose the vacation, I work so many hours that I can simply flex my time and make up for the hours missed.
Last week, in an attempt to use some vacation hours, and also to get away, Tomo and I went to Kishoan ryokan at Asama Onsen in Matsumoto-shi, Nagano Prefecture. Actually we had planned to take a longer trip to Bali over this time period. However, we determined after multiple web searches, investigations, deliberations, and discussions that the ratio of travel time to relaxation time to Bali was just too high. The trip might end up being more stressful than relaxing. What’s the point in that? We both were in the mood for an onsen as well, and a little pampering. So instead, we decided an evening at a ryokan at an onsen might be a somewhat cheaper, more relaxing experience.
Tomo did some scouting, and decided that we should go to Kishoan Ryokan in Matsumoto. One of my requirements was to go someplace wintery and ideally with snow so we could get the full rotenburo (outdoor hot spring bath) experience. Basically, just the opposite of our proposed trip to Bali. Oh well. We chose Kishoan because it was from the Hoshino resort group. Dedicated readers of this blog may recall a trip to Hoshinoya in Karuizawa in 2008.
We wandered around Matsumoto-shi for a little bit prior to going to the onsen. I had been to Matsumoto previously, visiting the city on a Monday with my friend Kentaro Tanaka. I remember a Monday because the famous watch museum was closed. Tomo researched soba restaurants and we had some delicious soba for lunch, both cold and hot. The cold was actually better than the hot.
After lunch we made our way to the hotel.
Entrance to Kishoan Ryokan
The ryokan was very much a modern ryokan. It was built about 10 years ago and purchased by the Hoshino resort group about 3 or 4 years ago. Still, the layout was very traditional. Our room was rather big, the main room was about 12 jo (jo is a counter for tatami mats … so our room consisted of 12 tatami mats). It also had a little sitting area next to the windows, and had floor to ceiling windows with a few of the northern alps. There was a hint of snow in Matsumoto, but certainly not the snow cover we passed through on the way there. The room must have been designed for more people, because it had two toilets, and another smaller tatami room. I didn’t take any pictures of the interior because I couldn’t really get a good angle and it would have looked rather boring. A tatami is a rush covered straw mat The tatami were nice, pretty fresh so they had a nice aroma and very soft. Perfect for lounging on.
Our room’s private rotenburo – hot spring bath on a balcony attached to the shower room.
At a ryokan, you change in to traditional 浴衣 (ゆかた – yukata – an unlined cotton kimono for loungewear or sleepwear). I have a picture that Tomo took of me decked out in my yukata, socks, and a jacket. I HATE the picture though, because I am standing underneath a cold fluorescent light and all the gray hairs reflect and the brown disappears. Yes, I DO have “natural” highlights but I am not as gray as I look in this picture. I am sharing for the purposes of reportage, although my vanity definitely makes me want to delete this picture forever.
An old, white man standing in Japanese yukata.
We settled pretty quickly into the room and then decided for a visit to the onsen. I think I’ve described the onsen experience before. I’d take pictures, but that’s probably not very cool. As it turns out though, I could have, since for most of the time we were the only people in the public baths. We had a nice soak, and I was able to melt away a lot of the stress I had been feeling up to that point. We enjoyed a regular bath, a whirlpoolish bath, a large rotenburo, and a steam bath. I really enjoyed the steam bath – I’ve never had one before.
After more than an hour in the onsen, we were wrinkling and it was time to move on. The room had no internet, and there were “two chairs” in the lobby that were able to access a wireless connection, so I went to one of the chairs and wrapped up some work I had to do. Sad, I know, but I was committed to finishing something over the weekend.
A big part of the ryokan experience is what should hopefully be a fantastic meal. Many times the meal is brought to your room. In this ryokan, they actually have individual dining rooms where you take your meal.
Map of dining rooms centered around a pool / waterfall.
Morning view from our dining room.
I enjoy good food, although I am not a foodie. I’m not going to go into excruciating detail over each course. I do have some pictures though, and I will share some of them. It was nice of them to print a menu of the 10 course meal.
My personalized menu in English. Yummmm.
Followed by sashimi and pumpkin soup. The pumpkin soup was my favorite dish of the entire meal. It was so delicious.
The salmon cake was not my favorite dish.
The scallops were very nice, covered with potato flakes and peanuts.
Our meat and soba were served together. Three cuts of beef, and a different sauce chosen to complement each cut.
Followed by dessert. No, there is not a fine layer of chocolate sauce. The dish is transparent and the dark table is showing through and looks like chocolate.
In the morning, we took a late breakfast. Japanese breakfasts are a lot different than western breakfasts. Our room was set up for our 9:30 am arrival.
Our dining room.
Looking a little less gray.
Breakfast detail, first plates. Pickles, salad, wasabi squid, congee, rice.
Fried fish for breakfast!
We wrapped up the morning with a visit to the onsen again. They have two different bath areas, and switch them between men and women. So today’s bath for men was yesterday’s bath for women. A good idea. This bath had a bigger rotenburo, but also had a relaxation room where the room was heated to just about body temperature. They had large tiled chaise lounges that were also heated. You just sat back and relaxed. I could have stayed in that room all day. Unfortunately, checkout was approaching and it was time to head back to reality. Tomo boarded his train to Tokyo, I headed on my train to Nagoya, pulled out the BlechBerry, and dove back into reality.