Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Jozankei... A Night of Abandon...

14th April. 2009 - Today we were in for a treat. A parents retreat. Two days of fun... with or without the sun. Indeed, the sun had beat a quick retreat behind thick grey clouds. That, however, would not deter us. T-chan and I were on our romantic 2 day mini-break. Just the two of us. At last! It might, or might not, surprise you to know that this was our first night away from L-kun. Full stop. Of course - as all good parents did we worried about him horribly... for about 5 mins, and then we enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

And how did we do that? Well, we jumped on a bus... a bus bound for Jozankei. Sapporo's other "romantic" getaway. Jozankei is the main onsen area, about 28 km from Sapporo Station by bus... actually, T-chan will most probably berate me here, as in her view Jozankei is still part of Sapporo. For a mere visitor however, it's on the other side of the mountains, and an eternity (and a 2 yo child) away. Autumn is the best season to visit Jozankei... and if you're interested, check out this older post when we were there during the golden leaves season.
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We stayed at the Hana Momiji onsen that sits alongside the river Toyohira-gawa, in the heart of the town of Jozankei. This particular onsen has two parts, the Hana-momiji portion is the taller Hotel to the left, whilst the lower (older?) Hotel wing by the riverside is known as Shika no Yu. There are a number of onsen, in the building itself,  but within the Hana-momiji section the main onsen is actually on the roof-top. Now... I'm most probably more a "natural" onsen person, but it's quite a bizarre feeling sitting (naked as you do) in a hot bath on top of an 12 storey building overlooking the town and across from the mountains.
Hana Momiji Onsen From Google StreetView

Actually, there are two onsen at the top floor - one for men and one for women, that alternate in the morning and evening. The onsen in the other wing are located on the 2nd floor, alongside the river itself. In terms of the onsen itself, I'd rate it 3 out of 5... it was a good onsen, but I'm a sucker for lakeside onsen or distant views of the mountain peaks... also, if I'm staying in an onsen hotel I prefer to stay where there's a good variety of different styles of bath.  As you can't take cameras into onsen (I certainly would feel uncomfortable if someone else did), you can check them out here to see a sample of the onsen baths themselves.

Of course - on the important issue of the onsen water... I have very little opinion. I'm sure most (though not all) Japanese enjoy onsen - and I'm sure there's just as many opinions about which water is best. Japanese certainly have a  greater appreciation for the water: whether it's temperature, smell, texture of skin following a bath, (supposed) curative powers - or just the particular array of minerals that are contained within the waters. For me, it's all about the degree of relaxation...

Our view was a slightly mixed bag. Like many onsen towns, Jozankei had evolved a fairly ugly concrete skeleton amidst the rugged beauty of the mountains. But as May was rapidly approaching, the town also like many parts of Japan, was already decked out in the koinobori (or carp pennants)... we'll see more about them later.

Another hint that the boys festival was approaching was the traditional kabuto, i.e. samurai helmet and armour (the armour part is optional), that was displayed down in the lobby. 

Returning to our room, to which we had been initially been guided to by one of the very helpful kimono-clad staff, we were able to relax even further. We had booked a "couples plan" (about 12,000 yen per person from not cheap), which meant a nice dinner in the room, and a little extra special attention. The room was Japanese style, so that meant that we'd be sleeping on futons... which had to be prepared once the dinner was completed (often done whilst your off enjoying the onsen...). Personally, for me, if you can I'd always recommend a Japanese-style room. It adds that extra special dimension to your stay... after all, you can experience a western-style hotel room anywhere. 

After a very relaxing afternoon and evening of onsen fun, we were ready for dinner in our room. It wasn't a huge feast, but we were quite happy with the variety, quantity and quality of the food. First off - there was the wine... a unique (seasonal) cherry-blossom flavoured sparkling wine.... actually this came on top of a bottle of white. Given that T-chan doesn't drink much more than fumes, this presented a different sort of challenge to myself. I mean, we couldn't let it go to waste.

Then came the main meal which consisted of a range of sashimi, tempura, grilled fish (forgotten what sort), salads, beautifully cooked rice (gohan), a type of Cherry-flavoured soft fish cake (kamaboko), and the main attraction, our own personalised shabu shabu dishes (see the white "cloth" dishes sitting over the tea-candle burners... something I've not had before. We also had some savoury jelly, desert (and we hadn't even hit the cake as yet).

We each had our own rice cooker/warmers...though I don't know where they thought we'd fit all of that rice?

Oh - and I forgot the  crab miso soup (misoshiru). Yummy.

And I have to tell you... I do have a separate dessert stomach. It doesn't matter how much I eat/drink, I can always find room for desserts... especially mini cheese-cakes and strawberries.

And whilst it's perhaps not advisable to rush down to the onsen immediately after a big meal, we had another special treat to occupy ourselves. We had booked our own private onsen bath for an hour... it's not that easy to enjoy onsen together as a couple as most onsen these days are sex-segregated. But... this is all you're going to see on this blog about the private onsen.

After a huge day of just plain relaxing, in the wee hours of the morning we decided to crack open the cake... ah raburabu keiki (a term of childish doe-eyed love for one-another in Japanglish for love-love). And the evening was yet young (unfortunately, both T-chan and I were not.... alas).

So whilst it was a night of "abandon".... at least in terms of leaving L-kun home with his grand parents, I can honestly say that it was not without some stress (and I'm sure there were moments of stress for T-chan's parents as well). It was a reminder also of our carefree lives, and of those days when we could just go running around the countryside without any commitments... and in those moments there's always a twinge of sadness at something lost. Yet honestly, those moments are quickly filled to over-flowing with the joy of having children. At least until the next time they start crying. ?;-p

I like to believe that whilst L-kun was snug in bed back at obaachan and ojiichan's house, that he benefited almost as much as we did by having re-charged parents coming home the next day. And as for the onsen itself, I'd give the overall experience a 4 out of 5... coz it's nice and close to Sapporo and yet still has the feel of being in the mountains.

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