Monday, February 8, 2010

Winter Vacation - Beppu and Fukuoka

Our last day in Beppu we decided to hit the baths again. I'll admit my one and only goal for this trip was to take an obscene amount of baths and the rest of the itinerary was Danielle's idea. I'm glad we also went to Kumamoto, Aso, and Usuki but I was there for the baths. And on December 30th I got just that. We started the day off with a hot sand bath where we were buried in sand for fifteen minutes. Once I figured out how to breath under a mountain of hot sand I was able to relax and really enjoy it. And unlike the mud bath, this place had a nice shower and water bath to rinse off in.

A picture of how the sand bath works.

Then after some lunch we headed off to Suginoi Palace, a ryokan on top of a hilltop that boasted baths and spectacular views of the city and bay. I was a little bummed at first because the weather was not cooperating. It was cloudy and was spitting rain so we didn't have the best view, but then the sun came out and we saw a spectacular rainbow. Since we were in the bath surrounded by lots of naked women, I have no pictures so you will just have to believe me when I say it was very very nice.

We tried to stay long enough to watch the sunrise but even after getting out and having a snack and a short rest, we just couldn't make it. After almost three hours in various baths and the sauna I was cooked and ready to get back to the hostel. Turns out there is such a thing as too much bath time because I ended up with what I call an onsen hangover. All that hot water dehydrated me and I ended up with an upset stomach, a horrible headache, and the general grossness that you usually get when you've had too much to drink.

The next day we got up late and got ready to leave. We had reserved bus tickets back to Fukuoka but right before we left the guy at the front desk called the bus center and found out that our bus had been canceled. Snowy weather had closed the roads higher up in the mountains. So we had to take a later train. I was a little worried we might not get tickets since it was New Year's Eve and many Japanese people were traveling to be with their families on New Years Day. It's like Christmas Eve back home.

The line for train tickets!

We eventually made it to Fukuoka, albeit a little later than we had planned. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and ventured out to see some of the city. We visited Shofukuji Temple - Japan's first zen temple. And also Tochoji Temple which also houses a very large wooden Buddha.

Then it was on to Canal City to do some shopping. I bought some new gloves and also a fukubukuro or a New Year's grab bag. Mine was a cheaper one so I paid 525 yen for a closed bag filled with equal or greater value than what I paid. I ended up with a bunch of cute accessories. I probably won't wear most of it but it was fun and worth the small amount I paid for it. Other stores sell more expensive ones and they are very popular at New Years in Japan.

Tochoji Temple

People paid $500 to write their wishes for the coming year on these roofing tiles.

A very large wooden Buddha. (I got yelled at for taking this picture...oops.)

Japan's first Zen temple.

Canal City

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My fukubukuro

Since I was still recovering from my onsen overload from the day before, going out and doing much for New Year's didn't seem like a good idea. It's not very Japanese anyway. So we stayed in the hostel, resisted the efforts of the staff to get us to eat the traditional New Year's Eve meal of soba noodles, and went out around 11:30 to a nearby shrine. When we got there the line to pray was already incredibly long so Danielle (who is Buddhist) decided it was too cold to wait. A security guard invited us to stand near him and his kerosene heater so we chatted with him about where we were from and asked him questions about the New Years traditions. At midnight, a priest played the taiko drum and people started praying for good luck in the new year and throwing their coins.

We left soon after and headed back to the hostel. The next morning we got up late, packed slowly, and headed back to the airport for our return flight home. All in all in was a great trip!

The line to pray at the shrine. Happy New Year!

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