The past week has been full of opportunities for me to embrace and appreciate all the intricacies of the Japanese culture. Sure, it sounds cliche but i truly feel like i am learning a great deal of the language and culture.
As i mentioned before Beppu is famous for its geothermal hot spots. so throughout the mountain you will see pillars of steam rising from the trees. these hot spots can be channeled to heat water and these naturally heated pools of water are called "onsens." there are many onsens in the Beppu region most of which are relatively inexpensive. but there was a quiet whisper of a rumor going around of a "wild onsen," meaning no cost, just in the middle of the forest. however, there was a rite of passage that one must go through to experience said onsen; a treacherous journey through the mountains to be deemed worthy of experiencing the fine natural riches of the onsen. Now some of you may be wondering, what is so great about an onsen? the answer is simple, onsens are said to have healing powers both physically and spiritually. go here and get restored and after a long week of classes i was very interested.
Myself and a group of students decide to venture to this wild onsen and see how we fare against mother nature. we had to take a short bus ride (on the way saw a small army camp with military trucks, tents, and helicopters; these instruments of war are no longer there when we passed the site a day later. seems odd?) to get to the base of the particular mountain. as soon as i set foot off the bus i was met with the unmistakeable smell of sulfur and rotten eggs. which are a by product of the natural onsens. after adjusting, we started our trek up the side of a mountain. at first there were some roads that went uphill but it gradually turned to gravel and then just nothing. a small semblance of where a road could be was barely visible. going up the mountain lead to some fantastic views of the city and ocean. i've said it before and i'll say it again, its the same city, and virtually the same view, but it truly never gets old. we got to a point where there was a small valley and what looked like the remnants of a spillway/dam. it was here that we experienced the view in all its glory. after the short break we continued up the mountain and were soon confronted by a hill that was almost vertical... the final test. we had already been hiking for 1 hour. this was the final test of stamina and endurance. mother nature was laughing in our faces saying "baka no gaijin" but i was determined to get up the mountain so i lead the charge. i want to be frank with my readers, it was completely worth it. the onsen was everything you could imagine. literally in the middle of the woods. there were 5 pools total all at different heights. the water at the top (closest to the source) was the hottest. and it gradually got cooler as it went further down. there was also a "cold pool" off to the side. when we got there we had to ask the "senpai" (senpai means senior or elder) if we were allowed to enter. this is basic etiquite for the wild onsen. then had to ask if it would be ok if the girls and some of the guys wore bathing suits because they were uncomfortable with being nude, which is the norm at any onsen wild or not. after some convincing he said it would be ok. after a while the guys who were in their bathing suits seemed hesitant to get in at all. but after those of us who didn't care much for bathing suits or looking funny got done egging on the ones that weren't they eventually caved, and peer pressure prevails again. in a good way. it was interesting to see how the japanese were probably thinking how weird it was that there were some guys wearing bathing suits. an interesting contrast of cultures.
I took the opportunity to practice some japanese. you'd be surprised how being in a naked in a tub with 3-4 other men will really bring down yours/their walls. before i knew it we were all talking and laughing and having a blast. turns out i know more japanese than i thought. which was an interesting revelation. one guy i was talking to was making a joke about how he has 6 girlfriends. at first i laughed and thought he was kidding, but as time went on he kept mentioning them...makes me think he might have been telling the truth. after a while some sweedish tourists about 20-23 in age came by and before you knew it we were talking politics and getting peoples inputs/opinions on america. in one pool i was making my way out to go to the cold pool to cool off when one of the other guys in there touched my chest and said "very good body." naturally i was flattered, but i thought this was something very odd to say to a naked man as he is walking by you. but i have found that japanese people, although sometimes very reserved, are very forward too when i comes to somethings. while in the cold pool i was photographed by a man who seemed good intentioned. but my "good" body will most likely end up somewhere on the internet. a small price to pay though. before we left me and a few others noticed a group of 4 men cooking on the upper section. we were all really hungry so a few of us walked by (now clothed) and pretended to be interested in something near them. and waited for them to offer us food. which they did. the food was so-so. i found out i ate some kind of intestines, and some other type of raw fish. but on the whole it wasn't too bad. it was the first thing i had eaten all day.
It was now after dark and we need to to get ourselves down the mountain now. and it was every bit as scary as you would imagine it to be. especially the pass where there is maybe 5-10 feet of road and then a steep hill... that part was scary in the light, 10 times worse in the dark. when we got to the spill way we went out on it again to marvel at the eye candy God had prepared for us that night. the crescent moon was just peaking over the mountain. the lights of Beppu were in full bloom. and it was like someone had painted a picture and said, here matt, enjoy this. i tried to take a picture but no camera would have been able to capture the majesty i was feasting on with my eyes. we got back to the bus stop and found out it was a 45 minute wait for the next bus because it was the weekend. fortunately, i was able to hitch hike a ride back to school. a nice man who had recently visited san francisco picked me and two others up. when we got in the car he was listening to Madonna, which made me laugh. we ended up talking and it turns out he owns a karate dojo in Oita (which is the neighboring city). we talked about music for a while and he asked what music i liked. i thought about which american artist he would know and came up with michael jackson. when i said this he got really happy and started searching for something frantically in his console area. he pulled over and found what he was looking for...a Michael Jackson CD. he popped that bad boy in and we drove home listening to the likes of Billy Jean and Thriller. we offered to give him some money for the ride, but the only compensation he would accept was a picture of us on his cell phone. we happily obliged him.
I have no divisive social commentary for this week. most of it was depleted in my classes which are turning out to be more interesting than i had initially thought. But tomorrow i will have been here for exactly one month. and i am saddened by this thought because i already feel like my time is running out so fast. i wish this were not the case but i fear that time will continue to slip by exceptionally fast. it might be all the karaoke i am doing, or all the people that i keep meeting. but who really knows? not many pictures for this time around but i hope you will continue to read and follow me on my journey.
Until Next Time,