To Ohara Onsen

November 2 proved chaotic as I couldn’t figure out how to get to the Air B&B that would put us near Kurama, the place where Mikao Usui Sensei founded the practice of Reiki. We had reversed steps from Naoshima to Kyoto.

Though it proved restorative, the experience at the Oohara No Sato (note the extra “o”) did not compensate for missing out on my one goal for the trip.

The accommodating people at tourist information in the Kyoto train station handed over a bus schedule. Having read that traveling by local bus with luggage was problematical, I opted for a taxi – expensive but worth it because we would otherwise have arrived in the dark.

The ride through congested streets revealed women dressed as geisha and a few old buildings. The driver spoke no English but put on an English-language radio station playing such ancient classics as “Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini.”

Within twenty minutes or so we climbed out of the city into the mountains. The scenery transformed into a miniature version of the northern California coast. Tall spindly pine trees with trunks bare up to twelve or fourteen feet perched on rock ledges. The sun filtered in patches at the beginning. Before the end of the trip it had sunk behind the ridge. Dusk here lacks that “gloaming” quality of more northern latitudes.

Our ride wound up and up through narrower, steeper roads. We passed a few people with bicycles, some riding, a few walking. The locals here seem even smaller and more stooped than the people in Naoshima.

After more than an hour, we began to see big, hefty looking westerners garbed in sensible down. One man was setting up an enormous Nikon on a tripod. The view revealed a gorge that stretched miles and framed by higher peaks.

The road narrowed to a single lane as we at last pulled into a small compound with a minibus and a few cars in the parking lot. The driver retrieved our bags and handed them to a young man who hoisted both at the same time like they were feathers, then carried them inside and up two flights of stairs after we checked in.

It is not at all clear how Oohara onsen counts as an Air B&B since it is a hotel with a full-service restaurant.

Our room was again larger than I expected, and a pot of tea awaited. We disrobed into yukata and headed for the onsen, which consisted of three baths, one inside, one under an overhang, and a tiny one in the open air that could hold four smallish people.

Progressing from one to the next restored my body and mind from the tension of travel. The frigid air just served to make the bath that much more enjoyable. Again, the few Japanese women present were brushing their teeth and otherwise doing thorough personal hygiene. Maybe this is the custom.

In the pool with overhang, we met Victoria, a young woman who lives in Greenpoint, born in Ohio. She had come to Japan by herself to celebrate her thirty-third birthday. She apologized for the tattoo on her shoulder, which she said she was supposed to cover when in the presence of Japanese. I didn’t see her do it, nor did I ever figure out the reason.

We changed back into our clothes for dinner, though others dined in their yukata.

Each room had a separate table with a brazier topped by a huge pot of boiling water. We added a pile of veggies the size of a small mountain: tree ears, bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots. Sides were three types of pickles – eggplant, cucumber, and mushrooms. Of course rice, plus a treat of three types of miso made on the premises — white, garlic and aged (three years). My favorite was the last as it had an intense almost smoky flavor. The staff brought me a piece of excellent smoked mackerel because I couldn’t eat the chicken in the hot pot.

I tried the hot sake, which no more resembles what we have in the States than champagne resembles Welch’s. Don’t think I’d ever drink it regularly but would enjoy the real version as an occasional treat.

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