Oh Toyama!

To be honest Mel was a sceptic when Suan first crafted the 5-day itinerary to Toyama (富山).

Not East nor West…

Afterall, where IS this place anyway? Located on the northern stretch of Honshu (本州), this coastal plain is buffeted by the Tateyama mountains on the east, where we had seen the famed ice walls. We took a Shinkansen that hurtled us 300km away from a sunny Tokyo in order to get there (Toyama we mean).

If one peruse web literature about the city and provincial area, it is a story about how this rich agricultural plain was once a battlefield many a time. You know a prized asset is always fought over right? Well, that’s the story of how royalty and nobility have been treating plebian folks like their property over the ages…

The city of Toyama was flattened at the end of WWII because it was an industrial center. But as a provincial area it re-emerged quickly in the post war years. In fact, Takaoka (one of the cities of Toyama perfecture) was a medieval seat of the metal casting industry, so that tradition has carried on and over into other technological areas as well.

What did we do while in Toyama?

We picked up a rental car near Toyama city train station and made a mini road trip. The drive took us to various historic centers, stopping invariably at roadside seafood markets and enjoying the scenic views along the way. It was also a time to do some hot naked baths again in the Ryokan Onsens (Japanese traditional inns). You have to try it some day too!

Key highlights:

  • Enjoyed Onsen baths with a quite a few having wonderful views
  • Ate Firefly squid and famed beef croquette from Japanese TV…
  • Took in a beautiful panorama of the Tateyama mountain range

Did Mel become the converted from this planned journey by Suan? Let’s read more about this road trip here!

Naked hot baths in Japan

As the provocative title suggests, it literally means bathing in your birthday suit.

No joke here, it’s all real and in the hot baths it is really required to be naked save for a small towel. Now, I would imagine that the Nordics would be familiar with this – since there are also geyser baths in places like Iceland. So while ‘skinny dipping’ would seem to be negative in the western sense, it is perfectly normal here. Japan being on the pacific ring of fire means that hot springs (they are called ‘Onsen” here) are numerous.

But etiquettes still apply, and it is extremely important that one clean oneself before dipping into the hot soothing mineral water. This will help assure all other users that the water remains hygienic. Also, most Onsen is designated single-sex only and mixed baths are less occurring. That should help the shy ones.

Only when you have dipped into the piping hot broth of mineral water (each spring has its own unique mix), will you know the feeling of warmth especially during this period of harsh cold winter.

Maruei Ryokan Open air bath16
Enjoy the view while you soak in the warm mineral waters

As the temperature of the water varies, you will to be careful how long you stay in the bath. The recommendation is that if temperature is >42°C, stay no more than 10 minutes submerged in the water. Even for baths with a lower temperature if is not recommended to stay more than 20 minutes. It is actually my own practice to dip for 5 minutes and then sit out of the water for 1-2 minutes before submerging into the alluring warmth of the spring.

In most hot-spring inns (Ryokan they call them here) or public bath houses, there are dressing areas where you can not only dry your self and re-clothe, but also preen yourself. All manner of personal care  amenities are usually available.

Maruei Ryokan Open air bath8
See the certificates in the top right of the picture?

During our drive through the five lakes of Mount Fuji, we had the pleasure of staying in two Ryokans and experiencing the mineral riches of two different springs.

Normally it is not allowed to take photos in the bath, but we had arrived at 3pm and went to the bath when there was nobody. So, the trick is to either bath when nobody else wants to, or bath very late when no one will do.

Really enjoyable way to end your day especially these last few days of sub-zero temperatures!