旅館 ryokan—Japanese inn

Sorry for the lack of blog posts recently. I started preparing for the JLPT exam in December and I took on a daily study regime that is really unsustainable. That is, I can do it, but only if I don’t do anything else. Having kept it up for two weeks I have decided to step back, reassess my priorities, and figure out a more realistic rate of study.

I’ve had a number of people recently tell me that they are enjoying my blog. That’s always nice for me to hear, and makes it all worthwhile! Please do feel free to add a comment.

On Saturday we set off for our 1-week summer holiday. We got onto the expressway and drove to Aichi prefecture.

Aichi is where the city of Nagoya is, and was the location for a major event called World Expo 2005. We met Yuko’s friend at the park where the Expo took place.

Despite having one of Japan’s big cities, Nagoya (2.2 million people), as well as the city of Toyota (where the cars come from), Aichi prefecture is mostly very rural. Not “rice fields and farmers” rural, but “mountains and forests”.

We stopped at this hydroelectric dam to find a geocache:

We stayed at a ryokan in a hot-spring resort called Sasado onsen. It’s a place that time has largely passed by, and is blessedly free of modern tacky signs and excessive development.

There are basically two types of hotel accommodation in Japan: western-style (where you sleep in a bed, in a room similar to what you would find in hotels anywhere in the world) and Japanese-style, where you sleep on the floor. A Japanese-style inn is called a 旅館 ryokan, and usually includes an elaborate dinner in the price of the accommodation.

On entering the ryokan, you take off your shoes and put on a pair of slippers. The room is largely clear of furniture and floored with tatami mats. This is where you sleep, and in some cases also where the dinner is served (although in our case we were served dinner in a separate private dining room).

One of the rules of the ryokan is that the dogs had to wear clothes. Our dogs had never worn clothes before and were not delighted with this imposition on their dignity.

Japan’s food culture is very strong on local specialties. Each area has its local food, and each type of food is associated with a certain place. People travel to distant places specifically to sample the local specialty. In the case of this area, it was a river fish called ayu. Our dinner featured 4 different kinds of ayu: ayu sashimi, ayu grilled in salt, ayu grilled in miso (using miso as a sauce is another feature of the area) and sweetened ayu.

A Japanese dinner consists of a very large number of dishes, brought to your table over a period of an hour or two. Needless to say, you feel pretty well-fed by the end.

Commonly, when you arrive at the room, you take off your street clothes and put on a light robe called a yukata, tied with a belt called an obi, and wear these for the duration of your stay at the resort. You can even go outside in a yukata; there are special little clogs provided at the entrance of the hotel for people who want to clop clop their way around the streets in their dressing-gown. However, as you can see in the above photo, for some reason we were still wearing our normal clothes in the dining room.

While we eat dinner, the hotel staff roll out the bedding in our room.

Because it is an onsen (hot spring) resort, you can relax in a hot bath before bed. You go downstairs in your yukata to the communal bath area, where you sit on a little wooden stool and use a little wooden bucket, and scrub yourself thoroughly clean from head to toe, before sliding into the hot, hot water of the bath.

There was a beautiful view of the river from our balcony.

In the morning after checking out, we were able to take the clothes off the dogs (allowing them to recover their dignity), and let them go for a swim in the river. Now, you may wonder if the dogs were so traumatised by last week’s experience that they wouldn’t want to go swimming in a river ever again. Apparently not!

To be on the safe side, we kept them on the lead while they were doggy-paddling.

Note on the word of the day:

旅館 ryokan is written with two characters that are fairly familiar to intermediate learners. The first character 旅 ryo is familiar from the word 旅行 ryokou—travel. The second character 館 kan appears in numerous words with the meaning “public building” or “building open to the public”, such as 図書館 toshokan—library, 大使館 taishikan—embassy, and 美術館 bijutsukan—museum.

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