Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Work Hard, Play Hard and Relax Hard in Japan

Behind the doors of this simple looking building is pure 
relaxation: an onsen ryokan (hot spring resort).

Once upon a time (actually until last year) at a certain international exchange student program at a certain Japanese university there was a week-long spring break. This break was an integral part of the semester's schedule allowing students and faculty a much needed respite and/or opportunity to travel within Japan or to neighboring parts of Asia. A week off of classes bookended between two weekends allowed for nine days. This year the administration decided to reduce the spring break to two days combined with a weekend. Four days does not constitute a spring break. As a result many students skipped classes before and/or after the official break period missing content and making the normal flow of class difficult. Of course faculty could not skip class and had to make do with the four days.

Japan is famous for its work ethic and thus the first part of this post title is "work hard." Not unrelated is the idea of playing hard to reduce work induced tension. I don't have much opportunity for such hard play these days and so when I had four days off I opted to "relax hard" to reduce stress. An onsen is the perfect place for this hard relaxation.

It's even better when you have your own personal massage chair
 and rotenburo (outside onsen) on the balcony of your room.

We arrived at the onsen in Shiga Prefecture right on Lake Biwa (Japan's largest lake) around 3:00 PM. We were greeted by the proprietor in the lobby and given yuzu tea. Next we were shown to our room on the top floor and given green tea and sweets. I then changed into a yukata and went to the main rotenburo. The weather was beautiful and warm, the scenery stunning and the hot spring water incredibly relieving. Just then a small bird landed on the hand rail and began singing its sweet song. Nirvana. Then it was back to the room for a session in the massage chair. Next, I had an appointment to use the ryokan's ganbanyoku (hot stone spa). The ganbanyoku isn't as hot or humid as a sauna but you still sweat a lot (it's supposed to be good for the skin, blood circulation and serves as a detox). But the sweat mysteriously stops and evaporates after you leave the chamber. After an hour session it was time to go back to the room for dinner. We had a special Shiga beef course that included a beef salad, beef sushi, beef shabu shabu, beef steak and a beef stew. After dinner it was back to the massage chair, back to the rotenburo and finally a dunk in our personal rotenburo before a hard sleep devoid of any stress related dreams. Bliss. After waking up the following morning there was a time for a quick bath before breakfast. After breakfast I had another session in the massage chair followed by a final bath. Check out was 11:00 AM.

I was exhausted after this experience, thus the term "relax hard."

Despite the challenging relaxation-schedule I did have a few moments to capture the scenery that could be seen from our window and balcony. Lake Biwa is beautiful.

I might recommend at least two days at the onsen to take away the "hard" away from the "relax" and not suffer from from post-relax exhaustion...

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