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

Wintriness: An Onsen Exposé

I learned early on in Western academia that the forces we all struggle with the most are these things:  Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Man, and Man vs. Self.   And then there's a fourth element which is Man vs. God, but IF there really is an infinite all knowing being, then nobody has any business struggling with that being in the first place.   Besides, I have my own private gods now and I'll deal with self as I go along.  I  have no patience for the infinite.

The road up  a winding snowy mountain is no fun, yet there's is a beauty up there high up in the howling winds.   A sense of knowing that the only true struggle is with self and nature.    I have always been convinced that the best way to see and experience Japan is through its natural landscapes.   Places that are inconvenient to reach, way out in no man's land so to speak.   Here's me driving  to my destination.    

The purpose of this journey was to visit Matsukawa Onsen, a place I had visited once before way back with a friend.   This time around I was solo the whole way.   The name of the onsen is called Kyounso and is situation high up in the Hachimantai Mountain range.

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From December to early February most of the roads are closed up here, so access to some of the more scenic areas are restricted during these months.    The only people who would come up this far would be old timers and me looking for that secluded hot spring spa.    You will never see tour buses this far up until spring.

During the drive I wasn't playing any music   because my tires were struggling to hold to the road;  Four wheel drive, snow tires.  The snow was heavy and I was a bit on the edge.   After reaching the Kyounso I parked; got out and set my window wipers up.    I knew I was in the right place because there's a huge geothermal plant in the offing.   Several years ago I remember the same view during Autumn.   In winter it is so much better.   Another good thing.  I was there all alone.  No guest, just like I had predicted, and this was good.

19 seconds of pain and pleasure as I had tried to film a short little snippet.

I had to walk over a long jaggedy slab of ice barefoot just to get to the water.   Words cannot exactly describe how cold I was.  The outside temperature this high up was easily minus 15 C. I was naked and barefoot trying to hold an iPhone.

The Japanese, for as long as history has recorded them, have always had a sense of reverence and respect for nature.   There's even an art form called Suiseki here in Japan, which is the art of stone appreciation and it's been around since the early Jomon Period.   Stone art in the sense that a stone reflects the characteristics of a human being, or some spiritual attribute.

This mammoth stone, when sitting up next to it,  took on a form of strength and beauty for me.  Like an enormous breast plate of defense when looking at it from the other side.   There's calcification, snow, and sulfur all over it, yet it is a remarkable beautiful and unmovable stone to appreciate.

And then here I wanted to highlight the stone, the wood, and the snow for effect.     The stone in the background almost has a human figure.

And then, here's the indoor bath.   I snapped this photo in the morning.  The sulfur was strong.  Too much inhaling it can be unhealthy for you.   Everything in moderation, like they say.   When you get inside this sulfur rich bath your skin starts to tingle because of the range in temperature variation from very hot to extreme cold.   When it's minus 15 C outside and you are naked and get into this really hot mineral rich water your pours expand and contract many times over.    This is a beautiful experience and is what makes these trips worth it for me.  

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