Ahh, another new year! It didn't start great — I came back to Naha Monday and I've already burned our tea kettle, and some of our cheese got moldy over the holiday (not a disaster: cut away the visible mold, wash with salt water, wrap it and return to the fridge). Oh well.
Osaka is as subtle and refined as always. Never change.
New year in Osaka is the same as always. New Years eve was at Henrietta as usual (and fun, as usual, even though I didn't drink). Early in the new year I scored a couple of Lucky Bags at the Mizuno flagship store in Osaka — a pair of last years' Wave Rider shoes, insulated shell running jacket and pants, winter shirt, long-sleeve t-shirt, gloves, socks and a towel. All you need for winter running, for the price of a regular pair of running shoes. Not bad.
I guess a steering wheel will work as well. It doesn't strike me as that practical, but the bike did look very good. That was of course the point.
We spent most of New Year in Osaka, but we did go to Misasa in Tottori for one night before New Year. Tottori, for those that don't know (I didn't), is on the Japan Sea side, north of Himeji and Okayama. If the Pacific Ocean side — with Tokyo, Osaka and so on — is the front side of Japan, the Japan Sea side is Japans backside, with fewer people, many rural (and depopulating) areas and few or no large cities.
Tottori is out of the way from the Tokyo-Kyoto-Osaka area so it's not inundated with Asian tourists shouting and shoving people with their tax-free drug-store bags. Misasa is famous for its mineral-rich hot springs, including a few that contain radium — hard to believe, but at one time radiation was considered healthy (and to be fair, small amounts do seem to have some health benefits along with the increased danger).
Getting there is easy: there's a direct train from Osaka station all the way up to Kurayoshi. It takes about three hours. From Kurayoshi it's another 25 minutes to Misasa; the ryokan picked us up with their shuttle bus.
Misasa itself is a smallish village along a river valley. The main business is ryokan and hot springs, although Okayama university have a "institute for planetary materials" (geology department it seems) there as well. Makes sense to have it at a plane with so much geological activity I guess.
Izanro Iwasaki in Misasa. You can get a very nice run just by following the river, crossing it, then running back up to the village. Go far enough and you can return through the car tunnel instead if you like.
We stayed at Izanro Iwasaki. We chose it — and, really, Misasa — because Ritsuko stayed there with her family as a five-year old (not so) many years ago. The main building and the hot springs have of course been extended and renovated, and the garden layout has changed. But a few things, such as the stone lanterns, still remain from that visit.
Traditional kaiseki dinner. It really was very good.
What do you do at a ryokan? Relax. Get out of your clothes and into a yukata. Soak in the onsen, go for a walk, have dinner, watch the river. Let life quietly flow past for a day.
Japanese do like their crab.
I really like onsen (Ritsuko is more about the food). This one was split up into multiple baths indoors and out, and the two gender-separated sides were quite different. The male and female side is swapped every day (every morning at 5am) so you get to experience all the baths. More fun than places that simply duplicate the same bath design.
They have one steam room with radium water. The signs told you not to stay too long; good advice, and I skipped it altogether. My absolute favourite bath was one of the outdoor rock pools. You sat sheltered from the wind with a partial bamboo roof that let through the cold rain falling from above. The feeling of the hot spring heating your body and the cold rain cooling your face as you sat looking up into the sky was wonderful. It must be spectacular when it snows.
A rain-soaked Misasa in early morning.
I went running of course. The evening run the first day was fine. It was raining when I went out for a pre-dawn run along the river the next morning. When I came back I was cold and soaking wet from the rain. It felt great to wash up and soak in the onsen for an hour before going to breakfast.
We spent some hours in Kurayoshi before returning to Osaka. Protip: always go to a local supermarket when you travel if you can. They will have local stuff — foods, sweets and ingredients — that you can't find at home, and at regular prices. Also, it's a slice of life, and always fun to see. Cafe Source Mid next to the station was a good place for lunch and hang out with a cup of coffee.
This was fun, and we should probably try to do this again next year.