Monday, February 11
Yesterday I hiked Mt. Takamiyama in Nara. It was wonderful to get outside again, in the trees and the fresh air, and the snow! - And to get some exercise. I went in a group of nine. There were six men I work with, one man's wife, one man's daughter, and myself. I bought eisen (ice spikes) for my hiking shoes as instructed, and bought some gloves while I was at it (I've never really had a good pair of gloves). We all met at Haibara Station (35 minutes by train from my station). Hanaka (sp?), Yamaguchi-San's daughter was adorable. She had practiced the night before how to say, "My name is Hanaka" in English. At first she was a bit shy, but she quickly warmed up to me. From Haibara station, we took a bus for 40 minutes to the mountain. It was quite busy - apparently it's a popular destination.
It took us about 3 hours to get to the top, with a stop for lunch partway. The scenery was beautiful - despite the fog. At the top was a shrine. The lady who came with us clapped and bowed to it - I believe it was a tribute to ancestors. Just past the top were the ice trees. The pictures below are not sideways and it was not incredibly windy. The ice forms on the trees this way - it has something to do with how the branches vibrate. It was incredible and so beautiful!
The trip down took about 2 1/2 hours. One of the men who came (Hisuzumi-San) had a problem with his leg and had to take it slow. There was a 700 year old tree on the way - it was pretty neat. I wanted to get a tree-hugging picture, but there was a fence around it. :)
When we got down the mountain, we caught the last bus back to Haibara and taxied to an onsen. It was my first visit to a Japanese onsen! I was charged with care of Hanaka (she's only 8). The mens and women's onsens were seperate. We bought tickets from the machine and traded them in for a locker key. I was greatly relieved that the onsen was gender segregated. You are expected to enjoy an onsen minus clothing or a bathing suit - and I believe some onsens are not gender segregated. Being from conservative BC, I am not completely comfortable taking my clothes off in front of a bunch of old ladies, let alone men that I work with!!
Before you enter the onsen you are required to shower and use the provided soap and shampoo, and rinse all the suds away. Hanaka and I enjoyed the warm water of the onsen (which is like a large hottub), then blowdried out hair and met the men outside. Then we went for dinner upstairs. It was a great dinner - instead of everyone ordering a meal, often they just order a bunch of appetizer-type things and everyone shares. At the end of the meal, I asked how much it was and they wouldn't let me pay! I asked if they were sure and they told me I was a guest. I was very grateful and also relieved - I haven't received a paycheque yet, and my funds are running low - I think it was a pretty expensive dinner, too!
It was an awesome day - the scenery, the company, and the exercise. Yamaguchi-San said we would go hiking a time or two again, before I leave in August - and I'm looking forward to it!