Today was our first cultural failure. We forgot to set an alarm and were late for breakfast! We hurried into our Yukata once more and waddled downstairs for our western style breakfast. We’d opted to go for the easy route here as 3 meals with rice and miso every day is still a bit much. So we had toast, scrambled eggs and frosties in the basement whilst being serenaded by an electric pianola (pianos that play themselves).
We then went off to our first public onsen which was the “large” one in the middle of Yudanaka. It wasn’t really very big but the other local ones are really quite tiny. We were joined by a young japanese family (on our respective sides of the wall) part way through and I didn’t have to feel like we’d chickened out of public bathing. This bath wasn’t quite as hot as the one the night before, though still tremendously hot by our standards.
After this we relaxed for a little while at the ryokan and then headed out again to the nearby town of Shibu onsen. We bought a couple of cloths which name all 9 of the local onsen and walked around the town stamping them with red ink stamps found outside each one. This involved a fair bit of guesswork as to which way up the stamp went and trying to compare them to the characters on the onsen signs. We had a short rest at a foot bath at the top of town and we then grabbed some chicken katsu don (with a really f**king hot mustard on a large bit of it that I got way too much of on one bite!) at the recommended place to eat. It tasted great, as did the gyoza we had. We then went off to use the largest public onsen in town and we didn’t get any company this time. This onsen set a new record for temperature, even turning the cold tap nearby onto full did little to dent the ferocity.
Once we were truly broiled we grabbed some souvenirs and a couple of monkey cake things with jam in them at a local shop and walked back to Yudanaka. We popped out to the local store and then went for another trip to the ryokan’s private onsen. Once again I had to relearn the meaning of hot as this raised the bar, but we had lovely afternoon views out over the valley and got nice and clean (as if we weren’t already) before dinner.
Tonight we had a hotpot on the stove (and instructions to eat it once the fire had gone out) with chicken and prawns. Rainbow trout cooked in foil with veg, mixed sashimi, tempura (a mix of sea food and vegetables), hard little things that may have been cucumber slices, some pretty raw roast beef slices with a basil sauce, tiny little rolls of mixed veg with a salad and a dish of sliced melon. Again the quality of food was superb. We washed it down with some hot sake and prepared for bath number 4!
The owner of the ryokan took us out to an onsen part way up a nearbv mountain, perhaps 15 minutes drive from the ryokan. He arranged for us to have a private onsen with views down over the valley for just over an hour. The early evening views were lovely and from here we could see the glittering lights of towns in the valley and the outlines of the alps in the distance. We added a bunch of cold water to our little onsen and had a very relaxing time. The selfies taken this night are the ones nobody will ever wish they’d seen :D.
The ryokan owner picked us up bang on time and then drove us back to Yudanaka for the night. Tomorrow we make our way by a variety of trains and a bus into Kamikochi, a village in the Japanese alps on the banks of a river in a beautiful valley. It’s a funny thing to come halfway around the world from Bath of all places and then fall in love with hot springs in Japan but Yudanaka and Shibu have been great and the owner of the Shimaya ryokan and his family (his daughter serves all our meals and is adorable) have been incredible and will not be soon forgotten.