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August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, ...


The navigation on my rent-a-car wasn't able to pinpoint the exact location of the New Otaka, so I had to pull over and ask two locals. One was a bus driver and the other was a lovely Jukujo who was ripe and sweaty from shoveling snow, a picture perfect beauty. Of course I forgot what the bus driver told me, but when the lovely matron apologized because of not knowing the whereabouts of my hotel, I was left with having to go to the visitors bureau for help.


Stepping in, I was greeted by a young and narrow figured Japanese girl. She was very helpful and told me that my bearings were off by 6km and that I needed to continue heading up the main road until I reached the very top. She made it extra clear to me that snow tires were absolutely essential if I were going to make it up there, and she was right. Lucky for me the studless snow tires were on the rent-a-car at no extra cost so I was able to make it up rather easily. Even still, I was nervous all the way up though.


That long winding road, which was all covered in snow and ice, was very dangerous to be on, even for snow cutters. I was literally hugging the steering wheel all the way up with eyes glued to the wind shield. If I saw a small rock on the road I would stop and go around it, I didn't want any strange mishaps or funny luck happening to me. Finally reaching the top I caught a snowy view of the hotel's name on the sign board, I was relieved.


Walking in to the hotel I was warmly greeted by a young man who called me by my first name - no raised eyebrows. They treated me like any guest. Then a kanreki obasaan came round the bend and greeted me and helped me sign in and showed me to my lovely suite; a spacious room with a beautiful wintery view. I was so happy.


Right now as I'm typing this, the first wave of guests are rolling in from the station. From Nasu Shiobara station it takes one full hour to reach the hotel. If you take a taxi it takes 45 minutes. It is exactly 4:30 as I type! Check in time is at 3pm. I checked in at 2pm, that's why I had the hot spring all to myself. And, I get to enjoy my dinner in the comfort and privacy of my own room. Dinner is at 6:30, so I'm drinking sake now. Three different local brands .


The bath was especially impressive with its rich sulfur which soaked deep into my bones, my soul. The snow fell like powdered sugar across my face, my shoulders. A holy hush, a silence that was so suffocatingly beautiful, in the womb. The majestic mountains before me, strong and secure. Everlasting. I got five sexts from my Jukujo mom today. I didn't reply to them because I was on the road and I hate texting when heading somewhere.


The indoor bath was just as nice. I usually sit in the indoor bath first to get my body temp. up, then I head out and sit in the outdoor bath.

///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// After finishing the first hot spring session I dried off and headed back up to my room. Shortly after, there was a pleasant knock on my door and a lovely matron was standing there. "Dinner is ready," she uttered warmly from her voice box. I cleared my table. She comes back and brings me a modest spread of delicious Japanese food. I was impressed.


The rice came last, which is typical in any Japanese hotel dinner setting. The food was pleasing to the eye as well as the stomach. ///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////

Bamboo, carrots and a potatoe

Rolled squid with fish cake and chicken.

Tochigi's legendary beef and potato salad.

Pot boiled pork with vegetables.

All-in-all, I rank this meal a B+ because I was allowed to eat it in my room, other than this accommodating point the meal was rather simple, yet satisfying. I have had better.

Climbing back into my easy chair, sake packed around snow outside my window, Macbook and iphone syncing, I relaxed and enjoyed the deliciousness of the evening sunset as it dipped just below the horizon.

During the course of the evening I used the onsen four times. I finally went to bed at around 2am. I got up at around 7am.

The sun had shone shyly that morning, through the clouds and the ice.

I checked out earlier than usual. Normally, I check out exactly at 10, but this time I was on a mission to visit two fantastic places here and here.


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