Friday, July 17, 2009

Nijo Castle and a Japanese Bath

After an exhausting day we were actually in bed by 10PM. Each hotel seems to have a firmer mattress. Andrea's been unhappy with the hard mattresses for the whole trip, but I've been reveling in the comfort. This one was finally too firm even for me. I woke up in the middle of the night; I'd rolled onto my arm and sleeping on it was so painful that I thought I'd loose the arm. When the pain receded I went back to sleep.

In the morning I woke up with a pain under my right scapulae, the mirror image of the one that has bedeviled me on the left. It's hurt all day like a shogun's spear had been inserted there and was being twisted at random intervals.

This hotel's toilets are similar to those in the previous two but have a extra button on the control panel. I stumbled into the bathroom, sat on the seat, and got the nerve to try the button on this hotel's toilet. A warmed air dryer fired right up. Since many public Japanese bathrooms have neither paper towel nor a hand drier near the sink I found this addition just a bit amusing.

Andrea asked the concierge about the Nintendo museum, but was told it had closed a couple of years ago. I bought some Internet time and looked up locations of ATMs that are actually on our bank's network. Turns out there's one in every post office in Japan. We went off to find the post office, eating breakfast along the way in a hotel lobby. Once we had money again, we bought subway cards and hopped on a train to Nijo Castle. The castle has "nightingale floors" that squeak with even the lightest step so that intruders can not sneak up on the shogun.

Then we headed for the Manga museum. Unfortunately, it turned out to be closed on Wednesday, so we headed back for lunch. We had spaghetti and salad and the kids got a parfait.

After lunch Andrea stayed in town for acupressure massage while I returned to the hotel to upload photos and write up the first half of day nine. I have tons of video, but never enough time to edit and post it. Getting this and a few snaps up are all I can do for now. The kids read and watched part of Star Wars: Clone Wars.

When Andrea returned we called Charles who asked if we were up for the full experience - a Japanese bathhouse followed by dinner. I'm going to try to describe it well but I know my prose won't do it justice. It'll have to do - Andrea refused to video it.

We took the subway north to Kitaoji station, found the L.L. Bean (10 feet above ground level, just as he'd said) and called Charles from our cell. He came and collected us and we went to the bathhouse which was set in a quiet residential side street. We took our shoes off outside the building and put them in lockers whose keys were pieces of wood with notches carved into them. We then went into a large locker room, got undressed and went into the baths. The room with the baths was large maybe 20 by 30 feet. There were three tubs, two small ones near the entrance and a huge one near the back. The huge one had water flowing out of it that ran across the floor, draining at the sides of the room. Along the side walls were rows of shower heads about 2 and half feet high. Following Charlie's instructions, first we each got a thick rubber mat from a cart, knelt in front of a shower head, and thoroughly washed. The kids were initially hesitant to get their heads wet but Charles insisted that they do it right. Then into the baths. The two small tubs were deep. One was dark blue with really cold water, the other was yellow with water that was dyed green and was sort of hot. I skipped those initially. The one in back was really hot - hotter than any hot tub I'd ever been in. I went in there. The tub had room for 20 people but only had 3 or 4 at a time. At the back of the tub was a salt water fish tank set into the wall. I admired the tank for a while and then worked on coaxing the kids into the tub. Joshua would only try the cold. Ari was braver.

One corner of the tub had a three sided area that looked like a comfortable place to sit. I headed over and Charles warned me - be careful. I was close and said "It doesn't seem that much hotter here." He told me it was electrical. I carefully eased my way in and sure enough it sent pulses of electricity through the water and through me about twice a second. Ari tired the electrical area too. He said it was cool and made his leg feel weak. Eventually we got out, washed again and headed for the lockers.

After we'd dried off, Joshua decided he didn't want to totally miss out after all. Charles was still inside, so I let him go back in and he tried the hot bath.

Andrea called over from the girls side. I had paid for her on the way in, so they were not letting her pay and she was upset. The boys and I met Andrea outside while Charles shaved. Andrea said that the women on her side had taken her under their wings and showed her how to do things. They wouldn't let her near the electrical area, but she got to try the sauna briefly (I didn't because it meant being where I couldn't see the kids).

We headed upstairs for dinner. The hostess greeted us by name (Charles had forewarned them) and led us to a nice reserved table. We ate a Japanese salad that was unlike any I'd ever had. Andrea had vegetables over rice and Charles and I had tempura (I know I'm boring). The kids had soba and miso (not that it was on the menu).

We went back to Charles's house for cake and conversation. The place was beautiful: tatami mats, shoji, and an enclosed garden in front. It had a nice open feel to it.

The kids needed to get to bed, so Charles walked us to the station around 9:30. What an experience! A fabulous day on a fabulous trip.


  1. I am a bit jealous as I have always wanted to travel to the far east and would love to visit Japan. Still plenty of time though and I could also go see Australia and New Zealand, 2 other places I am keen to visit.

  2. I bought some internet time and looked up locations of ATM's that are actualy on our banks network.
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