Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Geysers in Atami and the Bullet Train

Woke up early again with the boys. We played lego and built pillow forts in the tatami room for over an hour while we waited for our reserved private family time at the onsen (hotspring). The hotspring bath was delicious. We washed up in the shower, sitting on the traditional little wooden stool and cleaning off out of a shallow wooden bucket, before dipping into the hotspring pool. The pool was entiely lined in wood, with the hot natural spring water burbling out of a pipe in a rock on the wall. We all relaxed in the water for about 20 minutes before heading up for breakfast.
Like the supper before, our breakfast was a feast. Yakko tofu (on ice), hard boiled eggs, salad, miso soup, raw squid, oshitashi (marinated spinach), aji masago (some kind of tasty roasted fish, assorted pickles, tea and rice were all served up. We all ate quite a bit, which tied us over for much of the day.
After checking out, we explored the resort town of Atami for a few hours, looking for a park to play in. We followed the river for about 30 minutes walk down the hill to the ocean-front. We never made it to the huge sandy beach, but instead found a couple of small playgrounds to get sweaty in. Palm trees, massive anti-tsunami concrete walls and rip-rap, and large resort hotels were planted all along the waterfront, but it was quiet and not unpleasant in anyway.
We all kept better hydrated then yesterday and made our way back up the hill so we could make the bullet train. The river has been completely 'contained' by the urban mass of Atami, the course being boxed in with concrete and stone. The boys played a bit on the built-up riverbanks along the way up the river. On our way, we checked out the fabulous Ohyu Geyser (also the location of Japan's first public telephone), and nearby Yuzen shinto shrine, paying respect to Jizo-sama before leaving Atami.
We caught the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Shin-Yokohama station. It was an n700 series on the Tokaido line. It cut an impressive figure as it dashed into the Station and was a very comfortable ride, though Brian was painfully disappointed that they served no canned coffee. The boys feasted on daifuku (sweet chewey cakes).
We were in Yokohama in just a tiny fraction of the time it took to get here on the local train. At this Shin-Yokohama station, we stepped into a large mall, with a big uber-Futureshop-like store called Bic Camera. 9 floors of Brian heaven, but I was mostly restrained from spending any time there. The boys spotted a toy department on the 9th floor and are determined to come back. Karen spotted an Indian restaurant also on the 9th floor and we had lovely vegetarian Indian food -- including two very well priced children's meals -- all served by perfectly English-speaking staff. Our main waiter took to Alden, gave him everything he wanted (including making him a custom order of Indian Cheese pizza) and took him and his dad on a tour of the kitchen. It was great to see a pro kitchen during a 3pm lull. The apparent calm before the storm.Made our way from the big JR Station at Shin-Yokohama on the local municipal subway line 12 stops to our Inn, the Matsushima Ryokan. This ancient inn is tucked away in a residential neighbourhood, in a labrynth of streets that reveal the antiquity of the design of the city. The Inn has a beautifully developed garden with over a dozen mature koi, a dining hall, two japanese-style hot bath rooms (mens' and womens') and between two attached buildings, probably around a dozen tatami-style rooms. Our room is big and comfortable, easily fitting our four futons, our private dining table and all of our gear.
After checking in with our younger and very friendly hosts, we made our way downtown to the newly developed Minato Minari 21 district, where Karen's conference was being held. Getting off the municipal subway, we went on a very long moving sidewalk and in through four super-sized luxurious malls/hotels/office complexes (one being a Pan Pacific Hotel, and one being the hulking 70-story Landmark Tower). The waterfront is home to a huge amusement parks with several brightly lit permanent rides. We went on one, the highly overpriced (and very short) Family Banana Coster (the only ride Alden made the hight requirement for). Fun, though brief.

Crashed happy and tired back at the ryokan by about 8:30pm.

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