from the foreign female perspective
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After another tasty buffet breakfast, we finished packing and lugged our cumbersome suitcases down to the lobby to checkout. All went smoothly and we were soon back aboard the free shuttle tour bus en route to Sapporo, watching the scenery creep by as the vehicle fought the snowy roads until merging onto the highway. I expected to arrive back in the city no later than 1pm, but much to my dismay, the bus driver pulled into a resorty rest stop, home to massive souvenir shops, food stands, and several big restaurants. I wasn’t paying too much attention, but when I heard him say “"... will leave again in 30 minutes..." my ears perked up. I thought I had misheard, but when Aaron and I returned to the bus after perusing the gift shops and after I talked him out of buying a corndog, even the bus driver was absent. We sat in our seats for a few minutes, but still no one arrived, so we concluded that we had, indeed, stopped for a 30 minute lunch break.
I had told mom to call me at quarter after one, so I had to e-mail her quickly and reschedule due to the slight delay. But thanks to my retardedly silent phone, I was unable to hear her call and missed it; forget the fact that I was once again struggling to drag my suitcase up endless staircases to cross overpasses to get to a different bus station and probably would not have been able to spare a finger, let alone a hand, to pick up my phone, I was still peeved.
But mom called back as Aaron and I were finding a seat at the Chuo Bus Station to await our next shuttle bus to 登別, which was to depart at 2pm. We spoke for a few brief minutes until the bus arrived, and then it was time to fight the crowds to find our names on the reservation list. There were two huge tour buses at the stop, both bound for the incredibly touristy and luxurious 第一滝本館 (Dai-ichi Takimotokan), which was to be Aaron’s and my most extravagant hotel expense.
We were disappointed. While the main lobby area was absolutely massive and lovely, our room was incredibly tiny, especially when compared with Sounkaku Grand Hotel. We were paying $80 more for a room less than half the size and half the quality, not to mention there was no fun toilet to gaze at, no breathtaking view, no personal fancy dinner, nothing.
We explored the huge hotel for a while before dinner, observing the huge crowds and yukata-clad guests fresh from the famous 温泉. The souvenir store was terribly overpriced (well, more so than the other hotel), and the emplyees’ constant stream of "いらっさいませ！(blah blah blah) はいかがでしょか" (Welcome! You’d like some (whatever), wouldn’t you?) was hardly conducive to a relaxing atmosphere. Thankfully dinner time was nigh and we fled to the dining hall.
Holy. Cow. Imagine 300 people in one room, all clamoring for the all-you-can-eat buffet. Now throw in plenty of undisciplined children, women who aren’t afraid to use their elbows, men with appetites even a truck driver couldn’t imagine, and old androgynous beings taking twenty minutes to pour a cup of coffee while a huge line formed. That was dinner. Thankfully the wonderful variety of authentic cuisine assuaged my assaulted senses.
I had some wonderful 鮪 (raw lean tuna) and other sushi from a little sushi booth. While I was taking a slice of salmon from a tray, the slippery thing escaped the chopsticks and hit the floor with a surprisingly loud SPLAT. The elderly gentleman behind me simply stared at the disgraced piece of fish with his mouth ajar, then flashed a scandalized look in my direction. I just shrugged and took another slice.
There was also a little booth dispensing crab legs. I was shocked; a crab in Japan is still expensive despite their abundance, and a big one can cost upwards of $100. People were lining up and coming away with 15 or 20 legs and claws apiece, then coming back for seconds. Maybe that’s why the hotel is so expensive. I had had my fill of crab at the other hotel the night before, but decided I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for the freshest crab in the world just because I didn’t feel like eating any. I asked the smiling, wrinkled man behind the booth for two legs, but he just grinned a toothless, saggy smile, grunted some old man gibberish, and gave me two legs and a claw for good measure. I thanked him politely and went back to the table to try the stuff. It was amazing. More than amazing – it was the best crab I’ve ever had in my life, and it was tons easier to eat than the stuff at the other hotel. I wish I had gotten the crab first so I would have had room for more, but I will always remember the small amount I had with fondness.
After dinner Aaron and I had to get our picture taken as a couple as part of that silly package we had paid for. It turned out laughably bad, but it showcases the grandeur of the hotel very well.
Aaron was excited to get back to the room and flip on the TV in order to catch his favorite show, 元祖！でぶや(but everyone just calls it "Debuya"), a comedy about two fat men, パパイヤ鈴木 (Papaya Suzuki, the man with the huge fro) and 石塚英彦 (Ishizuka Hidehiko, lover of overalls), looking for tasty food throughout the country and overusing the backwards version of the masculine form of "delicious" to the point of hilarity. In this episode, the boys were in Kamakura looking for yummy pork and mushrooms. I highly recommend watching it to anyone who has access: 9pm on Fridays on TV Tokyo.
After the rather anticlimactic conclusion to the episode, Aaron slept and I read. That boy sure does need his sleep.
After much encouragement, he finally mustered the energy to rise and grab his yukata and a towel. We walked to the elevators together, falling in behind a few tipsy Japanese men who were very interested in speaking to us and finding out where we were from. I decided to play dumb and let Aaron do the talking so he could try out his Japanese on someone other than me, but he wasn’t quite up to par with the intensity of the men’s questions, so I hopped in and took over. The men were nice enough, if overly curious to the point of nosey rudeness, but I was so pleased to actually be spoken to instead of merely stared at that it didn’t bother me too much.
We parted ways to our respective genders’ baths, and that’s when the strangeness began.
I expected it to be deserted, but there were perhaps ten other women in the dressing room and bathing area when I arrived, causing much embarrassment to me and my over-sensitiveness. After ten minutes of hesitating and stalling, I took a deep breath and shrugged off my yukata (I had showered thoroughly in the room before donning it) and folded it carefully into a wicker basket. I took the permitted tiny hand towel with me, vainly trying to cover myseld at least a little, and tried not to blush as I walked past a group of tiny Japanese women. They stopped talking as I walked by, but I refused to glance in their direction. I forced myself to keep moving, trying to convince myself it was only my imagination that felt their eyes boring into my skin. But I walked with my head up, at a deliberate pace, nonchalantly holding the towel to my chest.
Once I closed the sliding glass door to the baths behind me, I knew I would not be able to do that again. Thankfully it was steamy due to all the boiling water, so I was provided with a misty cover as I showered again and walked towards the central acidic bath behind two other women.
The bath was nice. It was pleasantly warm, the water soft to the touch, but it’s mighty lonely sitting in a huge pool with no one to talk to while being surrounding my chatty groups of other people who stare at you like an animal at a zoo. I stared at the ceiling, my knees, the floor, anything but the other people. I tried to ignore what they were saying, but it was impossible. The Japanese seem to think their language is a secret, that foreigners are unable to learn it, and while this is often very true, it’s hardly a universal law. I was surrounded by such things as “Why is she here?” “Where is she from?” “Look at her skin” "So pretty" “So white,” all said at normal volumes, as if I was a deaf lump of flesh with no language ability whatsoever. So I got up and left, moving to the smaller, empty Cypress Bath.
I couldn’t step into the water on my first try. I like hot showers, sometimes to the point of scalding hot, but this bath was almost intolerably blistering. But after a few minutes of slowly immersing, I was able to sit down and enjoy the terrific heat. My skin turned incredibly red, and I began to feel faint after a few minutes, so I moved on.
There were 7 different waters in maybe 20 different baths. I tried the Hot Waterfall bath, but after sitting under it for a few seconds my skin felt bruised from the force of the water. I really enjoyed the Beauty Spa despite the comparably chill water temperature. I’ve never felt water so soft before, and my skin was absolutely wonderful after I got out. If I would sit in that thing for half an hour a day, I’d have skin softer than any newborn, I swear. Anyone would. It’s almost enough to move to Japan and take up residence in Noboribetsu.
As I was walking past the central bath towards another area, I looked over a low wall into a large open space, curious as to what might be over there. I saw a near mirror image of the women’s central bath, but the people sitting in it were a little strange looking. I took a step closer, did a double take, and suddenly pinpointed the difference in the people over there - they had no boobs! I had been looking into the men’s bath. If I could see them, they could probably see me, and I was terrified. I bolted.
I was too disturbed to notice the stares as I rushed back to my wicker basket in the dressing room. I overcame the Naked Man Shock after a few minutes and took the time to brush out my wet hair in front of a mirror. Much to my amusement, a little Japanese girl stood behind me, watching as I tried to detangle the mess my hair had become. This happens even at home, so I’m more used to it, and it doesn’t bother me anymore. My hair is not as long as it used to be, but still, not many people have hair past their hips in this day and age.
I was back in the room brushing my teeth when Aaron returned, pink and clean and sleepy. I opened the window to let in some cool air, and crashed on my futon for the night.
And that concludes Day 6 of kaytay’s Hokkaido Adventure.
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