My Trip To The Best Onsen/Ryokan in Shizuoka

This past weekend, I went on a trip with some friends to what would turn out to be hands down, the best ryokan and onsen experience in the Shizuoka area. And I’m saying this with confidence without having gone to any of the other Ryokan/Onsens in the area. I might even go as far as saying it’s the best Onsen that you can get to from Tokyo within a day, but more research is in order.

(Note: Ryokan means a traditional Japanese Inn, and Onsen is a Japanese hot spring bath.)

The Ryokan/Onsen(Hot spring) in question is called Amagiso, in a place called Kawazu, about an hour away from shizuoka and 2-3 hours ride from Tokyo. There, I enjoyed the most scenic and enjoyable weekend I have had in Japan, ever. (And I used to live in scenic Kyoto for a year.)

Journey From Tokyo / Exploring Surrounding Area

First things first, before we get to the actual Ryokan itself, let’s deal with the journey to get there. The best way to get there from Tokyo is definitely by car(ROAD TRIP!) but you can also take the train to Kawazu Station, and from there take the bus to Komamori Jinja(shrine). If you live in Shizuoka, getting there is a lot simpler, and you could get away with a day trip to the onsen portion only, and actually skip the ryokan itself.

If you have the opportunity to go in fall, during the 紅葉(kouyou) season, by all means do so. Unlike normal road trips where conversation and boring singing games take most of people’s attention, on this ride the scenery was front and center.

If you’re driving from Tokyo, depending on the route you choose, you get to drive past Mt. Fuji. This is just an easy picture I snapped from inside a moving car, without lining up for hours or paying to go on any fancy cable cart rides, or viewing bridges. (Which you definitely could do if you were so inclined. People sometimes joke that Mt.Fuji is a mountain that you climb other mountains to look at, not a mountain to be climbed.)

Mt. Fuji Shizuoka Side

And as if that wasn’t enough eye candy, we stopped along the way to enjoy some fall colors. Last weekend was the first weekend of December, and fall was definitely in full swing (with even a couple of bare trees here and there). We actually stopped in the Izu area around Shuzenji Temple just to take an in person look at some of these beautiful fall colors.

Fall Colors Shizuoka

Fall Colors Shizuoka

Then after walking, sitting and standing around just enjoying being surrounded by all these colorful trees for a good 45 minutes or so, it was time to grab a bite to eat so I ended up buying Mikan, and this yakimochi(grilled Japanese rice cake) that everyone were bragging about, but I was surprised to find tasted mostly like salt and of course it was wrappe in Nori Seaweed for good measure. The mikan however, were surprisingly cheap and very delicious.

Shuzenji

Shuzenji

Then we went to the actual temple as well. Somehow we had trouble finding the temple, even though the signs were pretty clear in hindsight. The temple itself was a pretty straight-forward, stereotypical Japanese temple. But the thing that made it worth our while, was how the fall colors blended with the temple structures making for a much more scenic spiritual experience than normal.

Shuzenji Fall Colors Shizuoka

The main temple building however, was sadly not surrounded by pine trees, not trees with fall colored leaves, but still looked pleasant enough in and of itself.

I looked up the temple before we arrived and I noticed that some comments on Trip Advisor complain that there are a lot of tourists visiting the temple. Many called it things like busy, or loud or crowded. While we were there fairly early in the afternoon, it wasn’t too crowded. (Although maybe it didn’t seem crowded to me just because I’m familiar with the crowds in Asakusa, and some of the more popular temples in Kyoto.) I will say that if you are looking for a remote Buddhist refuge, this is definitely not your dream destination, as it’s basically right next to one of the main roads in the area.

(We had heard rumors about some sort of picturesque bridge that might be a nice photo opportunity for the instagrammers in our group, but it wasn’t anything special to begin with and due to construction it definitely was a bit of a disappointment. I ended up not taking a picture at all.)

All in all Shuzenji itself definitely not a must-visit but the fall colors in the surrounding area were breath-taking. Hopefully praying at the temple, and giving 100 yen cause I had no smaller change will give me tremendous look in the near future. If that is the case, I will report back and update it to must-visit status.

Ryokan Amagiso: Location

Amagiso Shizuoka Ryokan/Onsen

The picture of the view from the rooms below will tell you all you need to know about the location. Located up in the mountains about an hour from Shizuoka (and a couple of hours from Tokyo), there’s not too much you can complain about unless you’re looking to do a quick, half-day trip. The location is on the very edge of a ledge overlooking a valley and the river and forests below. There’s also a very peculiar feat of engineering in plain sight, as a nearby mountainside must have been too steep or difficult to build a road normally, so there’s a giant kind of downward spiral you’d expect to see in parking house.

Location is ideal for a getaway weekend from Tokyo/Shizuoka or probably anywhere else in the Kanto area.

Rooms

Ryokan

Somehow I forgot to take pictures of the rooms, the picture above is of the corridor, but if you visit their website or booking’s page, you’ll see a lot better pictures of the rooms than I could take. We stayed in a standard room for 4 people, with a simple private bathroom but no shower. (Which wasn’t a problem considering that it’s an Onsen ryokan so we were literally there mostly to chill at the onsen.)

The rooms are traditional Japanese ryokan rooms with Tatami(bamboo mats) flooring, and futons on the floor. While a thin Japanese futon on western floor is anything but comfortable, it’s actually quite comfortable to sleep on futons on a tatami covered floor. The flexibility and give in the bamboo mimics the feeling of sleeping in a comfortable bed.

The rooms standard rooms were quite plain, with common area with a sitting table, a tea making set and some tradition chairs meant for sitting on the ground (like having the back of the a chair only) and the futons. There was a small area with a mirror and a sink (with carpet flooring, not tatami), and large windows showing a great view.

Ryokan View

Best Open Air Hot Spring/Onsen 露天風呂(Rotenburo) in Shizuoka

Oodaru Waterfall Shizuoka (Visible from the hot spring)

“You can see a waterfall from the Rotenburo!”, my friend said.

Despite being mostly broke, overly cash conscious and not having secured a steady job in Japan yet, I was convinced to tag along based on that sentence, and it alone. To get to the rotenburo, you have to go down to the lowest floor of the Ryokan, change your indoor sandals to outdoor ones, and then trek down a mix of stairs and road until you get down to where you can see the river. Then you continue walking until you see… it. The view itself would have been it’s own reward, but knowing that I would get to relax in an onsen with good friends while enjoying this view, made it all the more special.

This particular outdoor hot spring requires you to wear a swimsuit, as it doesn’t separate men and women. There are multiple outside pools lined with natural stones filled with hot spring water. Most have the waterfall in plain view. There’s also one right next to waterfall, but the water in this pool was fairly lukewarm and the splatter and mist coming from the waterfall was really cold in this season.

Onsen Pool and Waterfall Shizuoka

There was also a semi-covered hot spring with a roof and a back wall. That’s where I ended spending a lot of my time as the water was a bit hotter, which made the thought of swimming in the ice cold river water a bit more bearable. (My friend challenged me, so of course I had to do it right? Haha.)

Rotenburo Waterfall Shizuoka

There’s also a hand carved cave next to the waterfall with hot spring water, but because of the steam and the water dripping down from the rock above, I couldn’t exactly bring my humble Oppo phone in there to take pictures.

Food

We chose to book our stay including breakfast as well as dinner. The food included was a pretty stereotypical sort of expensive Japanese food lineup, including things like organs of fish that I’ve never eaten before, wagyu-beef that you grilled yourself on a small Teppan (iron plate), as well as a seafood Nabe (stew/soup cooked in the same pot) with crab.

While the Wagyu beef definitely caught my attention, the highlight of the meal was when the hostess returned after we were done eating the seafood and vegetables from the soup, to dump a heaping bowl of rice into the pot. She also brought us some whisked eggs to pour into the pot. The end result was something like rice soup, but with lots of egg and all of the flavor from the things that had been cooked in the pot before it.

All of my friends sung high praises of the dinner and the breakfast, whereas the culinary highlight of the trip for me personally came when we stopped by a Tonkatsu place on the way back that offered unlimited refills of rice, potato salad and miso soup. I am generally a big fan of simpler Japanese dishes like Donburi, and anything else that involves a little bit of cooking and delicious Japanese rice… but maybe not so much the more expensive Japanese dishes that often involve animal insides or obscure seafood.

Side Note: Karaoke Room

Again no pictures, but if you are feeling in the mood to enjoy an old school Japanese evening of Ryokan, you can drag your friends and family down to the karaoke room. Rest assured, they have a wide selection of western songs, including sappy Karaoke classics by Backstreet Boys, Aha and of course, the voice finisher “Africa” by Toto.

Conclusion

I’m new to this rating places thing so, I don’t know where “will definitely go there again before I die” places on a scale from 1 to 5 stars, but I’m assuming its 5, so I’m going with 5. While the food didn’t blow me away, that was probably more a case of me not exactly being who they had in mind when they created the menu, than the food itself not being well prepared. The room itself wasn’t amazing either, and the price wasn’t thaaat cheap for an onsen ryokan. But when you factor in the rotenburo with possibly the best view of any rotenburo in Japan… it’s hard to give it anything but.

Conclusion; if you are in Japan in the general Kanto area, book your stay via booking.com now! (Or of course any other booking site of your choice.)

Learning From Failure Vs Learning From Others

There are many different ways to learn things, books, tutorials, teachers, tutors, videos and video courses. But if you break it down far enough, there are essentially only two ways of learning. Learning from failure, or learning from others. Learning from failure can be hard, as it’s easy to be dejected by the failing and become unwilling to move forward and learn from it, but the lessons learned can be some of the most memorable, and valuable you learn in life.

Nothing Teaches You To Keep Your Hands Up Like Getting Punched In The Face!

There’s a saying in martial arts(or sports fighting) circles that goes something like this:

“Nothing teaches you to keep your hands up like getting punched in the face.”

Whether you’re sparring or fighting, chances are if you drop your hands you are going to get punched in the face. Especially as a beginner. And as a beginner, the first few times you spar you’re going to drop your hands.

Drilling on bags and shadow boxing in proper form helps a lot, but with the added stress factor of someone actually punching and kicking you, you start to revert back to old bad habits. You wing punches. You bring your head back and your chin up. And you leave your hands down or in front of you when you throw combinations.

If you spar someone who is at your level or more experienced, you are going to get punched in the face. Not too hard, hopefully, but hard enough to remind you that your hands should be in between his/her fists and your face. Nothing says keep your hands up like a bunch of nerves sending pain signals from your nose, or cheek or even eye socket. And then when it happens again, and again, it adds up and teaches you a lesson quickly that is hard to learn without actual practice.

But of course, martial arts or fighting is not the only area where you can learn from failure.

Failing And Learning

Today when I was experimenting on the theme I’m creating for my writer’s site, specifically making a page template with a completely different layout, I made a pretty big mistake. (For those who understand this is what I did: Instead of just using the body class to qualify all the items I wanted to change the CSS for, I edited every single Class and ID, including those from the header.php file.) Basically I edited a lot of code unnecessarily, that now needs to be changed back. Before that I made a few smaller mistakes, and got stuck a few times, having to go and seek out solutions after messing around for more than 30 minutes.

While this seems like a terrible way to learn, and I’ll admit that it’s not too time efficient, what these mistakes become are lessons. Lessons that usually stay with me much longer than something I just read about in a guide and implemented quickly, or borrowed from another theme or website.

Best of all, failing in this way motivates me to get better and learn more and come back and knock things out of the park. I think this might be a development that has happened to me after I started doing martial arts. Something about sparring against someone and getting your ass demolished (especially when you’re almost 2x bigger than them) makes you want to improve your skills.  And it seems like that mentality is transferable.

Now I’m not saying that these two are mutually exclusive, far from it. I think you get the most out of either form of learning when you compliment it with the other form. As in don’t JUST practice by yourself, learn from others. And don’t just learn from others, make sure you practice and experiment by yourself. Learning from others helps you get the tools you need faster than you’d get there by yourself. Experimenting and using those tools, helps you internalize and remember them much better than if you just read about, listened to or watched someone else do things.

Every Day Is A Fresh Start, Don’t Let Guilt Stop Your Journey

prairie-679014_1280Every new year, people take January 1st, and make it their excuse for making changes they’ve wanted to make for a long time. January 1st isn’t a special day in your life, and it’s not even astronomically significant according to Neil Degrasse Tyson. If you’re serious about making changes, randomly postponing until some date in the future isn’t the best idea.

To make matters worse, according to some reasearch only 8% of people manage to follow through on these resolutions. And sure, some people achieve great things because of their New Year’s Resolutions, but could these changes perhaps not have been achieved faster if they had not postponed making the change until a more or less arbitrary point in time? After all the only moment we have any real grasp of is the present. We don’t know when something might change and make it harder, or even impossible for us to achieve the things we’ve dreamed about achieving.
So if there’s something you want to change in your life, don’t wait until next year, start working towards it today.

Already Missed A Day Or Two? Skip the guilt, keep going.

For those of you who have hit your first hurdle with your new years resolutions, this post is a quick reminder that every single day is a fresh start. Every day is a chance to make a change or to keep moving in the right direction. If you slipped up, get back on track.

Don’t feel guilty about not going running, learning, or eating 100% healthy one day, just double down and make sure you show up tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after.

I messed up almost all of last week. I was off the wagon and not going towards my goals for more than 6 months before of that. If I spent my time wallowing in guilt (as I sometimes have been known to do in the past) I would not be surpassing my daily goals today, and I would not have surpassed them yesterday either. I would not be moving toward the Ragnar that I aspire to be. I would not be taking on small web projects for friends to help them (and selfishly gain experience and build my portfolio).

Guilt has stopped a lot of wonderful changes, even transformations from coming to fruition. Don’t let guilt stop yours.

New Year, New Habits, New Goals, Old Goals, Old Habits – 2015 in review and plans for 2016

As I write this, it’s been around six months since I wrote anything for this blog, or anywhere/anyone else. I never made a conscious decision to quit, but between my full time job, new relationship, new friends and new habits, the time and mind space needed for writing seemed to slowly slip away. This hasn’t been all bad, however, as the past year has probably been the best of my life. For the first time, I’ve been able to consistently stay more positive and enjoy myself for the vast majority of the whole year. Sure, sometimes bad things would happen, and it would cross my mind that the universe conspired against me and that I needed to pity myself – old habits die hard, right? – but they never became more than moments. There were no weeks.

The most negative period of last year was perhaps a few weeks after I stopped writing in which I sometimes felt guilty about it. In hindsight this might have been the last straw that actually caused me to stop writing for a time, as guilt adds another barrier between you and actually getting things done.

 

New Habits Acquired Over The Past Year

As far as new habits go, there are two main ones that I added to my day to day life. I started practicing martial arts, not any one in particular, but an unusual mix of JKD, Shooto, FMA, etc. Other than randomly starting to shadow box at any given point during the day, I’ve been going to martial arts practice for the last few months (2-3 times a week, 3 hour sessions).

I started hanging out with friends doing actual things (not just playing video games or drinking/eating.) This wasn’t an entirely new habit, as I had started doing this 2 years ago after I started my new job, but after I moved to a new office at school and made new friends, it became a bigger part of my life I guess.  Although a lot of this took place during weekends, or breaks, it still played a big part in the past year, making me healthier(getting me out and about and moving, and even was what got me started with martial arts) and happier. Instead of ending most weekends feeling like I did a whole lotta nothing, many ended with a feeling of time well spent, having gone to a new place or done new things. Again, not a new concept or experience to me, but a much more regular occurrence than before.

I Enjoy Life

Between these two things the way I fundamentally feel about life seems to have changed. I’m generally enjoying myself, and I know it. Sure, I may not look forward to work on some Mondays (or other days), but that no longer seems like some sort of overwhelming significant thing that is part of a larger pattern of ‘everything sucks’. I’m more confident in general, I feel more grounded in myself and my own habits rather than outside opinions and influences.

Old Habits To Revisit

First and foremost, writing. Not just for the sake of the innate benefits of writing, but I also intend to rekindle my freelance writing efforts – slowly but surely this time (as to not overwhelm myself again). Writing (and sharing that writing online) is what finally got me out of a 1 year rut after I came back from my exchange studies and graduated. I was unemployed, had 1-2 friends in the country that I rarely saw, and my thoughts about my life and future generally involved self-pity and despair. This is not an old habit to revisit, just something to remember, as good a reason as any to restart my writing efforts.

Secondly, restart learning about Web Development and WordPress other CMS. While teaching English here has been an enjoyable learning experience, I feel like I’m gradually approaching a time for me to move on to a new stage in my life, and having valuable, marketable skills will surely help me in getting there.

Thirdly, meditation. Although I do yoga at the end of every martial arts practice, and there seem to be some meditative moments interspersed throughout, over the coming weeks and months, I want to take up meditation again. Not only for the many general cognitive and emotional benefits, but to maintain the brainspace needed for writing consistently.

Old Goals

After all this I still have the same goals. The freedom of body to go and do what I want. The financial freedom to be able to afford to do what I want (not talking millions of dollars or even hundreds of thousands, just a buffer of a few thousand that means I can afford to quit my job or move to a new country without any real risk) and the freedom of mind to enjoy day to day life.

So here I am, back to writing again. It feels good.