Naked and Alone in a Japanese Hot Tub

Nikko Japan

We hadn’t slept at all when we landed in Tokyo at 8:00 a.m. Was it a mistake to take the 4-hour red-eye flight from Hong Kong? Then, I spotted a coffee shop. The world always looks better after a cup of coffee.

When Martin and I travel, we don’t necessarily need to see all the tourist sites. We enjoy new experiences and learning about the local life the most. So we started our Japanese adventure in Nikko, a small town about two hours north of Tokyo. It was so refreshing to not be surrounded by high-rises everywhere. October is supposed to be the best time to see the fall colors, but we didn’t see much of that at all.

Nikko Japan Nikko Japan dsc00256

Nikko is famous for its UNESCO World Heritage Shrine and for its national park which has a huge waterfall in it.

The shrine was beautiful and fun to visit even though we couldn’t see the main gate since it was being restored.

A small part of the ceiling of the main gate was visible. It was beautiful!

A small part of the ceiling of the main gate was visible. It was beautiful!

Nikko Japan

So many tour groups were also visiting the shrine!

Nikko Japan

Really? All of these Japanese characters to just say "off limits"?!

Really? All of these Japanese characters to just say “off limits”?!

Afterwards, we took a bus up the mountain to the national park. As we climbed higher and higher, the fog got thicker and thicker…we could hear the waterfall, but we couldn’t see anything. We had expected to see the things pictured here. I think we found Lake Chuzenji too but it was hard to tell…

Nikko, Japan Nikko, Japan

Because the weather was so murky, we decided to visit a traditional onsen.

These things are weird. I’ve visited hot springs in Iceland, in Guatemala, and now in Japan. Iceland’s was the best. Guatemala’s was OK. Japan’s was awkwardly uncomfortable.

Men and women bathe separately because everyone is naked. There were two tubs – one outside with warm water and one inside with hot water. The benches in the tubs were at an awkward height; when I sat on them, the water only came up to my waist. I tried sitting on the floor of the tub to cover my whole body, but that also felt strange. Despite no other women being there, I felt exposed. I could hear Martin on the other side of the wall chatting with a Japanese man while I sat naked and alone in a dirty tub of murky sulfuric water.

The visit to the onsen ended on a bright note, however. Outside of the tubs is a common lounge area where Martin’s new Japanese friend was waiting for him and offered him a beer from the vending machine. We sat and chatted with him and his companions for a while, and they shared their Japanese snacks with us. It was just one of countless times Japanese people went out of their way to be kind to us. 

Everyone we met in Japan was overly gracious and helpful.

Several people gave us directions and help with navigating the complex train system. One man even wrote down the directions for us, even though I already had written them down. Another man at the airport spent 20 minutes looking for the best way to get to Nikko and then wrote an extensive itinerary for us. Amazing.

In Tokyo, we stayed with a friend of Martin’s brother.

He lives in a big house with his wife and mother-in-law in Mitaka, a far western suburb of Tokyo. I was overwhelmed with their generosity; we felt so welcome in their home.

Visiting Tokyo is intimidating since it is so huge and nearly every neighborhood has something different to see and experience. Our host and his wife were going to Asakusa (pronounced ah-SOCKS-ah) on our first full day in the city, so we joined them.

We visited the famous shrine there and went up 350 meters (about 1150 feet) in the Skytree to see beautiful panoramic views of Tokyo.

Asakusa Japan Asakusa Japan

Looking up at the Skytree

Looking up at the Skytree

Skytree Japan Skytree Japan

Martin and I got interviewed for some TV show while visiting the shrine. They wanted to talk to foreigners and we said OK. I thought it would be about visiting Japan or something like that, but they wanted to know about our opinion about the Nobel Prize for Literature. Apparently a famous Japanese writer was nominated for the prize and they wanted to know if we thought he would win or if another nominee would win and why. Martin and I were clueless. Ironically, we discovered later that the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature went to Bob Dylan, who is from Minnesota like we are!

Also in Asakusa is Kappabashi street which is filled with stores selling supplies for restaurants. We saw several stores that sold only plastic food for display cases. My eyes were dazzled by all the adorable plates and cutlery. I was like a kid in a candy store, already designing my kitchen for when we would move to Tokyo.

Speaking of food, everything we ate in Japan was amazing! My taste buds did a little jig with every bite.

Tofu in seaweed soup. It may take advanced chopsticks skills to eat, but it is so delicious.

Tofu in seaweed soup. It may take advanced chopsticks skills to eat, but it is so delicious.

A vegan taco bowl with an avocado and a soy masala chai. I'm in love.

A vegan taco bowl with an avocado and a soy masala chai. I’m in love.

A Japanese cake filled with sweet potatoes and beans. Sounds savory but was very sweet. I'll have another please.

A Japanese cake filled with sweet potatoes and beans. Sounds savory but was very sweet. I’ll have another please.

Yuba in a miso broth. Yuba is the skin of tofu that is kind of like a long, very wide noodle. Oh, and my new favorite food ever.

Yuba in a miso broth. Yuba is the skin of tofu that is kind of like a long, very wide noodle. Here, the noodle is wrapped into a circular disc.

I can’t describe everything we ate, but two meals were epic. In Asakusa we found a vegan restaurant with a set lunch menu. OMG.

Vegan whipped cream?! Unheard of in China.

Vegan whipped cream?! Unheard of in China.

On our last night in Japan, our host’s wife made us a home-cooked Japanese meal. It was extravagant and thoughtful. We had been telling them the foods we had tried and how much we liked them, and she had listened to us and remembered what we said and served many of those same foods to us for this meal. It was so delicious. I was so distracted with eating that I forgot to take many photos…

Food Japan

Besides exploring Asakusa, we also spent a day wandering around Ueno, Roppungi, Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Shibuya. The day was filled with Japanese art, vegan food, quaint streets, local beer, and a crazy crowded intersection. It was happiness.

Japan

Japan

Why is their a dollop of golden whipped cream on the top of this building?!

Why is their a dollop of golden whipped cream on the top of this building?! Japan

Japan Japan

The National Museum of Japan has amazing artifacts, like these cute little sculptures.

The National Museum of Japan has amazing artifacts, like these cute little sculptures.

We both fell in love with Japan during our short vacation. I can’t wait to go back.

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6 Responses

  1. Mom-in-law says:

    Neat! What a fun trip – and beautiful pictures!

  2. Molly B says:

    Yay – a new post! And a fabulously titled one at that. Such lovely photos and words. Food sounds so amazing, my mouth is watering. Thanks for sharing!

    • Jill Wigert says:

      The food was amazing but almost everything had a little bit of fish in it so it would be difficult for a strict vegetarian to eat anything but cake. 🙂

  3. Rebecca Jensen says:

    Love this you guys ♡ Please let me know if you head west, you’ve got a Minnesota connection in Rome and Barcelona!! You’ve inspired my bf and I to put Japan higher on the list xoxo

  4. Did you see Hachiko at Shibuya Station? Each year my 5th graders read Hachiko Waits. I cry every year.