Day 8 of Japan: Kurama Onsen and Arashiyama

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Because Teisha’s calf muscle was hurting her so much (just a strain though), we decided to take it easy today and head to a popular Onsen (hot springs) in the area. Well, as close in the area as possible — we took the subway to a train station and then caught the train station up into the surrounding mountains to where the Onsen is, in the tiny touristy town of Kurama, which appears to only exist because of the local hot springs. Some observations along the way:

* We’ve seen many stray cats in Japan (or at least presumably strays) that are very scared of people, and often have short or bobbed tails — I’m not sure if this is a genetic trait, or due to their lifestyle.

* Again we got tasty ramen for breakfast. Teisha’s ramen had some tempura shrimp and carrot pieces in it. Andrew got tonkatsu (deep-fried pork strips basically).

* There are many very wide but very shallow rivers that go through Kyoto. They all look pretty similar in their morphology, and often people hang out along their peaceful banks. We saw some very large dark-colored fish in the one we first pictured, which is surprising to us because it was so shallow. There are also almost always some cranes/herons in the water — I didn’t realize how common they actually are here, as I thought this was a stereotype from old paintings… but it’s real! We think the streams may be like this because of the extensive damming done in Japan, which has had huge effects on their ecosystems.

* The subways in Kyoto are really, really empty compared to Tokyo. They also aren’t as good a deal, in our opinions — they’re more expensive and you have to pay twice to make transfers, whereas you only pay once in Tokyo. Andrew managed to snap a picture of the conductor’s seat while he was checking the cars. He also got a picture of one of the subway ticket checking machines opened up while some people were working on it. On Day 9 we realized the best way to get around in Kyoto is by bus — more on that tomorrow!

* On the train ride up to Kurama, it was really beautiful (see images from Teisha sitting to the red big-nosed statue). We passed a lot of little towns, tons of rice patties (often in people’s backyards), some cemeteries, cute little train stops, and beautiful forest.

At Kurama — the pictures starting at the red statute and ending at the paintings were taken in the village of Kurama, either of the village, surrounding forest, or the hot springs itself. The town of Kurama is really tiny, featuring some tourist shops where you’re dropped off by the train. The red statue with the huge nose was at the Kurama train station — I looked it up later (no English information anywhere near it) and it is a statue of a Tengu, a group of mythological Japanese folklore creatures often depicted with bird-like features yet human form — commonly they have big noses, which may be like having a beak. A bus took us from the train station up the hill to the Onsen, at the top of Kurama. The Onsen itself is surrounded by really beautiful, moss-covered forest – a stream flows by near the entrance to the Onsen.

* At the Kurama Onsen: We treated ourselves and went for the all-day pass covering admission to both the outdoor hot springs tub and the indoor facilities (another tub, massage chairs, and a “relaxation room” with bed mats and blankets). Since we got there so early, there weren’t many people and I managed to sneak some pictures of the inside hot springs tub/spa area in the women’s area. (Unfortunately, the tubs are gender separated – we have yet to find a co-ed hot springs within easy city access in Japan – I think a lot of this is due to Western influence. At least the tubs were still nude.) Sorry the pictures are a bit fuzzy – it was quite steamy! Inside the tub area were several individual shower stations, each with a shower, shampoo, soap, and conditioner (there was also one big shower too). There were three different tubs, two hot (I couldn’t tell a difference…) and one cold. There was also a nice sauna attached. The bowls are for pouring water on your head/shoulders, etc. There was a beautiful view of the forest from inside the tub. Inside the changing lockers was a room with another standard trough-shaped toilet, even in a luxurious place like this! Also in the locker/changing area were individual washing/hair drying stations… and lockers. After the tub/locker pictures is a picture to the entrance of the lockers (the “yu” kana (on the red and blue signs) indicates hot water/spring – a standard sign for a spa entrance) with the massage chairs nearby. We also tried the outdoor tubs, which also had amazing views (better than the inside ones even), and the tubs were much hotter.

After a few hours of turning into jello and healing Teisha’s leg (which miraculously felt all better and has been great ever since), we headed back down to Kyoto. The pictures of the paintings and drink/ice cream machines are at the Kurama train station. Some cute school kids rode the train to town too.

Random observations:
* In Kyoto on a busy street corner was a woman with two Siamese kittens – we think she was charging money to pet them…
* There was a sign in the train station to not grope the school girls! Look for the three-paneled picture below (after the cats), clearly indicating it pictorially. This has been such a problem in Tokyo that women have their own car to ride during rush-hour.
* For lunch, Andrew had tasty sobe noodles with tempura and Teisha had oyako-don, the rice with egg and chicken dish. (We found out later that oyako-don literally means “parent child bowl,” the parent being the chicken and the egg being the child!)

After Kurama, we headed down to a “touristy” section in Kyoto, the Arashiyama/Sagano area. We got there about 3/4PM, had lunch, and then re-discovered that Kyoto closes down really early. Even in the tourist area, shops were closing left and right by 4:30PM, and hardly anything was open by 5:30PM (Teisha managed to by a cute hat in a very big, nearly-empty touristy shop at 5!). Arashiyama/Sagano is a really beautiful place nature-wise though – there is a very wide, shallow river with a long bridge crossing it, connecting the tourist shops on either side, surrounded by thick forest on the non-city side. It’s really on the outskirts of town. Boat rentals are also available (when the places aren’t closed!) The river is almost completely controlled by man though – not only are there dams close on either side of the bridge, but you can see concrete paneling all over under the shallow water. The picture of all the closed, metal-fronted stores is just to show all the closed shops in this tourist area when the sun wasn’t even setting yet (hard to see, but it’s above those hills by a bit still!). It was a bit disappointing, but probably would have been better earlier in the day.

After that, we tried to find out where everyone in Kyoto goes when the sun sets. We had read about a covered arcade, called the Shin-kyogoku shopping arcade, so we went there and found it quite bustling! There are multiple streets that are covered and cut off from traffic that go on for blocks with different shops, mostly clothing/souvenirs, though some claw machines, manga book stores, and other unique shops. At several claw machine arcades they had actual live fish, specifically dwarf puffers, that you could win in the machine! (See the third from last picture.) There was also one shop that sold all the little plastic figurines that you could normally only get, by chance, in little machines in front of different shops (these are all over the place – they’re the same as quarter machines in the U.S., but usually just have plastic figurines of higher quality and cost roughly $1 US). The figurines cost 3-5 times (or more) what you’d pay for in a machine, but since the machines are random it can be a good deal if there’s a specific figure you want. There are three pictures near the end of such figurines you could buy at this one little shop.

The last two pictures are of a little beetle we found in our room. I’m sure it was quite harmless – it just looked interesting (had a very long mouth).


One Response to “Day 8 of Japan: Kurama Onsen and Arashiyama”

I love this stuff. I can’t see any hot spring pictures without thinking of Old Joy, which you should totally watch if you haven’t. One of my favorite films of the decade.

Colin - May 27th, 2009 at 2:59 pm

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