The Sagano Bamboo Forest in Arishyama is reputed to be one of the most beautiful groves on earth. The rustling of tall green stalks swaying in the breeze creates a unique clicking sound that is listed as one of the “hundred soundscapes of Japan”. Entering the famed forest I was completely mesmerized. The towering stalks were like nothing I had seen before. I heard no soundscape through the mostly snow covered trees, but it was still magical. However, my romantic vision of hiking in solitude was a pipe dream. A picture of the bamboo forest is on the cover of Lonely Planets Japan book – it’s not a secret grove. But at one point, I rounded a corner and found the slushy path virtually empty, and for a brief moment, I was alone in the enchanted bamboo wood. Three winks later, two giggling kimono-clad girls rounded the corner, taking selfies, and the moment was lost. I left still wanting to stay – but I was just too cold.
The next day I had a Japanese bath. Not knowing the protocol, I followed the woman ahead of me in through the curtained door where tatami mats covered the floor. I stripped buck-naked like she did, and followed her into the main room where multiple hot tubs, cold tub, warm tub and sauna were scattered among statues and trees. Rows of hot and cold taps were close to the floor where old women with beautiful wizened old bodies, adolescents with nubile bodies and everyone in between sat on buckets soaping and scrubbing themselves, and rinsing by pouring multiple pails of water over their heads. Some stations also had large mirrors where people were grooming eyebrows. There are very few overweight people in Japan. And the women are stunning! I was by far the heaviest woman in the bath and the only non-Japanese person there but I decided not to be self-conscious and to simply live it. It was authentic, natural and primal and I loved it. I met a sweet young woman named Ayako who was a teacher and one of the rare people who spoke fluent English. I wanted to take some pictures but wasn’t allowed – obviously.
When it was time to go back to Tokyo, the hostel receptionist booked me a cheap bus ticket with a Japanese company on the midnight express at half the price of the cheapest fare I could find online. He printed out the ticket and sent me on my way. At the bus terminal, I was sent in three different directions when I showed my ticket. It seems I had a ticket for Uncle Fred’s po dunk bus line. Finally an old Japanese man made it his personal mission to find and get me to the right place. The obscurity of it offended his organized Japanese sensibilities. And it took him almost half a hour checking with people in the know before he finally directed me to a place marked by a post, hell and gone from the terminal and told me to wait there and the bus would come at midnight. Fortunately it did!
I arrived In Tokyo this morning and fly to Bangkok shortly. I saw the city in the way that I like to see cities – in one fell swoop from an observation tower. I walked across Shibuya crossing, the busiest crosswalk in the world, navigated my way through the Shinjuku Station, the busiest station in the world (1.5 million people a day pass through it) and gratefully, caught my bus to the airport. Sitting beside me on the bus was a Philippine born Japanese resident who told me to drink hot water for my cough (I’ve developed a bit of a cough) and that the food is very spicy in Bangkok. I told her that I like spicy food. She said she had haemorrhoids, so spicy food was her enemy. We had a lively conversation for the duration of the trip where she continued to share freely.
I had a happy surprise when I checked my bank statements – the printout of the ATM exchange (when I arrived in Japan) said I would be charged $ 650.00 Canadian for 30,000 yen when, if I am reading correctly, it actually cost me $350.00, which makes a lot more sense.
Japan is expensive but it’s possible to expirience on the cheap. Packaged meals are everywhere, ranging in price from 100 yen for a very small tray of sticky rice, increasing in cost and size for elaborate meals. I’ve had salmon, seaweed, sushi, sticky rice dishes, mystery meats, fresh figs, all delicious, and all less than 200 yen. Below is an accounting of what the week has cost me.
Transportation (buses, trains and subways) – 13,440 yen (about $140.00), Hostel accommodation for 4 nights (I took two overnight buses) – 6,000 yen (about $70.00), Food – 2,200 yen (about $25.00), Castles and Temples and bath – 1,500 yen (about $17.00), Sundries – 2,690 yen (about $28.00, mainly spent on a crochet hook and 10 balls of wool:)) .
So the weeks total comes to about $280.00. Bearing in mind that I walked all the places I could, stayed in ten-bed dorm rooms, and I’m trying to lose a few pound so my food intake is on the low side. I know I’ve been more frugal than many people would want to be, but other than Kyoto’s record breaking snowfall, I’ve had a great time. But now I’m definitely ready for some warmth. Time to go, the plane is boarding. Next post from Thailand.