Friday, 4 February 2011

Aoni Onsen

As I mentioned in my previous post, last weekend all the JET CIRs from Aomori prefecture went to stay at a rather famous hot spring resort called Aoni Onsen. It's a remote little lodge located in a dip between the peaks of the Kuroishi hills. It's so remote the place can't get TV or mobile phone reception, and it doesn't even have electricity. As we drove out to the onsen on the special shuttle bus - normal cars/buses aren't allowed to drive out there - I watched the signal bars on my mobile disappear and realised I wasn't going to be in with much of a chance of following the Asian Cup final, which I'd wanted to watch. Japan ended up winning 1-0 by the way though. Well done lads.

We arrived mid afternoon, while it was still light. First things first, we went for a dip in a couple of the four pools. Whilst bathing in the second one the sky turned dark and the only illumination left was the gas lamps scattered about the place. As the daylight dimmed and the temperature dropped, the pool room became dark and filled with steam. This made it hard to have a conversation, and we spent a good 30 minutes shouting at each other across the pool, until we left for dinner. Dinner was traditional Japanese food, lots of fish and boiled vegetables and rice. The Japanese have a word for food like this, 山菜料理 - mountain plant food. Yeah, we weren't gonna be getting much else out here.

We then headed back to the rooms for a quiz and drinking/eating/chatting. There were two Japanese-style rooms - one for the girls, one for the boys - complete with tatami mats and green tea kits. Our team won the quiz, then we spent the rest of the night trading various Japanese alcohols and snacks. You can find the craziest snacks in Japan, and everyone seemed to have their own recommendation which would get passed round the circle. As people got sleepy the group got smaller and smaller, and eventually everyone made their futon from the ridiculous pile of blankets, sheets and cushions. There was actually a guide on how to put the futon together, but we just threw some blankets together and slept on them. We switched off the kerosene heaters, which had by now given everyone headaches and sore throats due to the windows being frozen shut meaning the rooms couldn't be aired. But heat is a necessity when your living at the top of a mountain in the middle of winter.

We woke up earlier than I'd wake up on a weekday to catch breakfast, which was basically the same meal as we'd eaten 12 hours earlier. After gathering our things and posing for a picture we got back on the shuttle bus and made our way back to civilisation.

I can see why Aoni Onsen is popular. It feels primitive and natural, but it's not an easy, relaxing weekend. It's quite the opposite actually, but when you take into account how much the Japanese love the idea of 頑張る (struggling on despite difficulties) I think Aoni will be doing good business for years to come.

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