Please start at Day One

Monday, 28 March 2011

Day 28 - 3000 year old Bath

No bank or hotel so far had accepted my travellers cheques and I was starting to worry. I was staying in Matsuyama City for another day so I asked the man at the hotel reception to point me towards the biggest bank branch in the city, he obliged, and so did they, and I am now carrying lots of Yen. After the bank I went to Dougo Onsen, a Japanese hot spring and public bath-house which is a popular tourist attraction. It is 3000 years old and reputedly the oldest in Japan. I found the information board outside as confusing as the menus outside restaurants, but I gather they offered just a bath, a bath and tea, or, a bath, tea and a meal. I chose just a bath, which was ¥400, and then another ¥60 for a bath cloth and soap, and another ¥200 for bath towel rental. As this was a busy public bath-house I was concerned that my tattoos would be a problem, because of the Yakuza (Japanese mafia / gangster) association some onsen do not allow people with tattoos in. I decided I would claim ignorance, that I couldn`t read the "no tattoos" notice - which would be true. The bath was large and hot and full of sweaty men, it had an old-fashioned feel to it, not quite 3000 years old, but old and traditional enough to please a tourist like me. At least I am now used to the Japanese bath ritual and did not make a fool of myself by taking soap into the actual bath and washing myself, I sat at one of the showers around the edge of the bath and scrubbed myself obediently. I sometimes feel that the other chaps are watching to check that I clean myself properly before I get in their water. I received a few curious stares from other people in the bath, but I am used to that. People stare at me the whole time while I am at work in uniform, and people have been staring at me since I arrived in Japan. This is probably just because I am a foreigner wearing the Henro outfit, it happens mostly in the villages and in the mountains, I am not such an attraction in the cities. Maybe they were just staring at my fine physique in the bath, I don`t think the tattoos were an issue, I saw one bald old chap with a large pot-belly wandering around naked, he had a proper Yakuza tattoo over the whole of his back and buttocks and down the backs of his legs and no one seemed bothered.

Near to the onsen is a chic retail area with small stores selling sake, clothes, gifts and the same Matsuyama Tart that I received as O Settai two days ago and is a local delicacy. I bought some small gifts, but was conscious of the size and weight of everything, which I will be carrying on my back along roads and up mountains for the next two or three weeks. It was about lunchtime when I came out of the onsen and I was hungry, I went into an authentic noodle restaurant by myself for the first time. This did not seem such a daunting prospect now after Fujiisan introduced me to them, I even managed to muster up enough Japanese to negotiate a set meal which wasn`t really on their menu, I was very proud of myself! I had "Kitsune Udon", which translates as Fox Noodles. This dish does not contain fox meat, it is udon noodles in broth, topped with fried sweetened tofu pouches. In the late afternoon I visited Matsuyama Castle, which reminded me of Kochi Castle, a series of wooden towers and buildings on a natural rock, with a fantastic view of the modern city all around it. Matsuyama Castle was very pretty in the late afternoon early spring sunshine, some blossom is also starting to arrive. A group of photographers had set up their cameras on tripods to capture the perfect shot of the castle in the evening sun framed with sakura.

  • Distance walked today =  0km
  • Distance walked so far = 543.3km
  • Temples visited today = nil
  • Kouban visited today = nil.
  • Accommodation = Hotel and breakfast ¥4280, Hotel Taihei, Matsuyama City, Ehimeken 〒790 08--
  • Expenditure today =  Dougo Onsen bath, soap and towels ¥660, new mini brolly ¥525, Kitsune Udon Set Meal and Asahi lager ¥1600, various gifts ¥1735, ¥3150, ¥530, laundry ¥400, food / sake for evening and lunch tomorrow ¥895.
  • Settai = Japanese fan with Shikoku Pilgrimage route on it, from shopkeeper at gift shop

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