Welcome to Hell or Heaven

Trip Start Dec 25, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Welcome to Heaven or Hell
Beppu the Hells of Japan.
As our cramped. Made for Japanese, stopping for three hours so everyone can get a, little rest, overnight bus from Hiroshima to the island of Kyushu approached Beppu...You could see it. You could see the hills rising from the sea and steam rising into the air creating this mystical curtain over where we where going. With a little Japanese lesson and our lonely planet map we depart the bus into the hills above the city of Beppu. With a little help from our map and our instincts we set off down the street bags in hand. As we stop at the street corner plumes of steam rise from under our feet. The manholes puff and puff with steam from the boiling water flowing under the streets and buildings of Beppu. As everyone knows Japan is a volcanic place and the hills of Beppu are no exception. Steam rises from the rivers and from hundreds of large vents throughout the city. They even cook on the streets by harnessing the heat and rising steam. Boiled eggs and corn seem to be a popular choice. The town hosts more than a hundred onsens (aka bath houses and hot springs). We are looking for one of these onsens as it is attached to our traditional Japanese inn. We reference a local bus stop map and a local bus driver to learn that the Ryokan (japans inn) is right in front of our noses. Hessen and I look at each other in dismay as it looks much too nice to be our inn. Picked out of the friendly neighbourhood guide book we walk by a small steaming foot bath at the entrance to the parking lot... The bus driver assures us that this is the place and watches us carefully as we make our way to the door. We are early and the manager is a little taken back. He calls for a young girl with good English to communicate and when all is said and done we are aloud to check in to the traditional Japanese room. We drop our bags and head straight for the lovely onsen to soak our cramped and weary travelled bodies.
As I told you. I would get around to explaining these fantastic things called onsens.
Onsens. Most of us are familiar with hot springs. These are similar. Just with a few more rules. Men and women do not and cannot bath together. Unless a private smaller one pool onsen is booked weeks in advance. There are separate baths for each gender. The baths are small to large with varying degrees of heat and can be inside or outside.    There are many codes of conduct as all things in Japan, but especially the onsens. Before entering the change rooms shoes must be left behind and a fee paid. Towels, soaps and all amenities can be purchased through a vending machine. After undressing you and your little towel to cover your private parts make your way to a station within the washing room. There you will find individual little stools about 4 inches of the ground placed in front of a large mirror with a shower head and tap. There are usually a large assortment of soaps and shampoos to choose from along with a medium sized traditional bucket for filling with steamy hot water and dumping over oneself.  After you find a station and squeeze between the others you proceed to shampoo, wash rinse, wash and rinse and wash and rinse again. When you are sufficiently clean you can then choose from many styles of hot baths inside or outside. All the baths are designed in a natural Zen type setting and the ones outside are usually the hottest being fed directly by the hot spring. Small rectangular towels are carried and used only for covering private parts. This is practised by most except for the wrinkliest, oldest men. EEWWWWW!!! Who just don't seem to acknowledge anything. Except the foreigner. . Let's just say that in a sea of hairless dark-skinned Japanese. The white foreigner is like reflective buoy that everyone takes notice of .The towels are not allowed in to the water and are kept to the side or folded into a  neat square and placed ones head. One room at a particular onsen had a 2 story room that looked like 15 small waterfalls that fell into a pool. You stand in the pool under the water fall of your choice as the water falls from high above and massages the body. Another thing I particularly like maybe because I am from Canada is the cold baths. I tend to stay in the cold bath twice as long as anybody else then head for the hottest pool. This takes the muscles to a whole new level of relaxation. AAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!
Back at the inn we are presents with a traditional Japanese meal to feed an army. The table is full of a multiple of small dishes ranching from delicious soups, sushi, meats, vegetables and many things foreign to me. We could have slit one meal and it would have been plenty for both.
On a run for beer and snacks you can watch people running around the streets of Beppu in there traditional Japanese robes after a day of soaking and relaxing. Not a usual site in Japan.
The next day and the next onsen present us with a communal sand bath. Not knowing exactly what this entailed we headed in. Communal? Very strange at first. How does this work. Well it turns out that you have to rent a robe that is kept on as you enter the sand baths. Picture the sand baths as long sand horse shoe pits. Each one is as about 6ft wide and 20ft long of varying temperatures. All heated by the steam underground off course. As we settled into the only space available and because we can't read kanji the hottest spot in the arena. People started to comment. It seems that these two spots are open because they are very very hot. I like the heat and stay, Hessen moves to a cooler location. You then proceed to dig yourself a pit in which to lie then use farming like tools to move and scoop the sand on top of your body. The deeper you scoop the hotter it does get. You rest your head on a small wood block and let the heat and weight of the sand relax you. As a young couple where leaving they told us that we needed much more sand and proceeded to shovel large amounts of sand on to us and burning there feet at the same time. OUCH! It was hot and I did suffer a very mild burn to my hip. It's not long before you are taken over by the sand and probably fall asleep.
Next, ladies and gents go there separate ways and enjoy another scrub down and hot soak in the beautiful seemingly natural hot pools.

 I would say, that yes the pools and sand are hotter than hel,l but it feels like heaven.
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