Journey Through Japan

Day 7, 07JAN2017

Final full day in Hirafu and thus final day for Josh to hit the slopes and get his fill of snowboarding.

We woke as predicted to the glorious scent of bacon cooking on the stove. Who doesn’t just love this smell? Even if you’re not a fan of eating bacon (gasp!) you have to admit, the smell of bacon sizzling is a fantastic smell. After a great brekkie, Josh departed for the slopes. By afternoon’s end Foley and Josh had completed 17 runs, a total of 33.5km snowboarding traversing 6606m of altitude. The boys even ventured off the beaten path and thrillingly carved their way through some trees. All in the all, the final day of snowboarding was a huge success.

We all met for lunch at Hokkai Dog. Round two at this food truck did not disappoint. Josh ordered the bacon-wrapped cheese dog, I opted for the California dog smothered in sour cream, guacamole and chili powder. We shared a platter of potato wedges covered in cheese, salsa and guacamole.

Post lunch I wandered down to Arigato Spa for my massage.

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Mt Yotei from the street

This was, hands down, the best Thai massage in the world.

Disclaimer: this statement is based upon the real life experiences and claims of two persons who shall remain nameless, however it is known for a fact they both had a Thai massage at Arigato and they both declared the massage to be incredible.

I ritually receive massages. I believe it is a part of wholesome happiness and health. The best masseuse in the world is Janice at Aveda Pure Nature right outside of Scott AFB, IL. I attended her for years while stationed in Illinois and she was an absolute blessing. I highly recommend her. Janice’s art is in deep tissue and Swedish, my Arigato Thai massage was an entirely different animal.

The only other Thai massage I’ve had in my life was actually in Bangkok and it turned me off from Thai massages forever – or at least that’s what I thought. I imagine akin to how women fresh out of the maternity ward are like “I’m never doing that again” and yet after a certain threshold of time their mind and body forgets what giving birth was like and they decide to go through it again – on 06JAN2017 I met that threshold for the “I’m never getting a Thai massage again” and decided, “yes! I’m totally doing this.” On 07JAN2017 I returned to the futon mat and was excitedly awaiting my Thai adventure.

The thing about Thai massages is that they are kind of like assisted yoga. In Bangkok the lady must have assumed I was a yogi capable of extreme flexibility. Mika at Arigato knew I was a sore, incompetent snowboarder who felt as though every joint in my body needed some TLC.

I walked out of my 90 minute massage a new person, and the night proceeded to only get better and more relaxing!

For our final evening in Hirafu, we all decided to splurge and upgrade our onsen life from that of the 700 yen value onsen to the 1000 yen hotel luxury onsen.

Let me tell you something: that 300 yen made a world of difference. While I liked both onsens, the luxury onsen had a great deal of, well, luxury going for it. For starters, the changing room at this onsen was covered in traditional tatami mats, a dehumidifier was in use, each attendee received a personal locker with a lock, and there was spacious counter-sink-blow dryer space for every woman to get ready. Contrast this to the cheaper onsen where the ground was covered in towels, the sinks were crammed in a corner, the room was stuffy and humid, and you placed all your valuables in a basket anyone could take if they so pleased.

Then transition to the bathing area. The cheaper onsen’s bathing area was situated around the indoor onsen such that you bathed yourself while sitting next to people a few inches beneath you in the hot springs. Additionally, because of the steam and the cave-like mineral water pooling off the ceiling, you couldn’t actually see anything, to include yourself in the mirror. In the luxury onsen each bather received their own Hollywood glitz-style sink and seated shower ensemble. The luxury onsen also had conditioner in addition to shampoo and body wash, whereas the cheaper onsen just had the latter two.

Finally the actual onsen. These two truly shouldn’t be compared in this segment. The cheaper onsen had an indoor hot springs maintained at 40-43’c and then an outdoor onsen set in mineral-deposit covered rocks (which made them uncomfortable to lean against) maintained at 38-40’c. The difference in temperatures in both was nice – the closer you got to the source of the hot springs, the hotter vice versa. But the luxury onsen had FOUR hot spring bathing sections, all with equally distributed and maintained temperatures due to various water pouring injects. There was the cool, the medium, the hot, and then the brilliantly hot pools in the luxury onsen – each with their own theme! The outdoor one wrapped around the snow and you could overlook skiers returning to the chair lift beneath you. The brilliantly hot onsen, indoors, had a waterfall wall, the medium (my favorite), had built in ceramic loungers, and the cool bath was just a boring bath. But still! More variety. Also, the luxury onsen had a sauna – set to 90’c it was unbearable, but still a nice attribute lacking in the cheaper counterpart.

I know this post makes it seem as though the luxury onsen was the way to go, but in truth, it was a bit stuffy. Although it had more variety, the truth is, for the price alone I’d choose the homier, lived-in feeling onsen where the great-grandma runs the front desk and you get the feeling that locals and foreigners alike are welcome.

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To conclude our final evening in Hirafu, Clara joined us at Minamina. The small, warm, restaurant was recommended by Carmen and Tony and Josh actually booked a table for the five of us! We curled up in a tatami-matted seating area which required us to remove our shoes and climb over a bench in order to be seated. Foley and Purcy ordered a hot pot – a thick stew which is actually made in the center of the table on a single burner. Josh and I shared burdock chips (a fried root vegetable), Hokkaido fried chicken, a rice set (miso soup, pickled vegetable and of course rice) and a boiled chicken salad. We then moved to the Coto Bar nextdoor and said our goodbyes over sake, plum wine and Purcy’s ice cream bowl he enhanced with store-bought jelly bellys. Great end to our snow adventure.

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