Atsumi Onsen, Japan

July 24 - 25, 2001

 Our Travel Experience

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Our Travel Experience

We took the easy way out in Atsumi Onsen and decided to treat ourselves to a night at a very fancy Japanese Ryokan. It turned out to be the right choice! Our stay was an extremely unique and enjoyable experience. However, we nearly didn't stay at the Tachibanya Hotel since it was the most expensive lodging of our whole year off.

From Kisakata, we took the train south along the Nihon Kai seaside. Tara decided that the next little town along the coast that looked good was Atsumi Onsen. The description in Fodor's was brief but promising: a small onsen resort town nestled between mountains and sea. When we arrived at the Atsumi Onsen train station, there was no tourist information window. The only information was a map showing that the onsen resort was not withing walking distance of the train station.So, after checking the bus schedule, we decided to take a taxi to the area near the hotels. Tara told the taxi driver exactly that in Japanese "We want to go to the area where all the hotels are." As we were riding in the taxi, Tara tried to get a recommendation from the taxi driver, again in Japanese "Can you recommend an inexpensive ryokan or minshukan for under 10,000 Yen for 2 people?" Our taxi driver laughed and explained "Nothing here for under 10,000 for 2 people." It wasn't sounding good.

So, we were dropped off in the middle of a really tiny town with no idea on where to stay. We couldn't see a map or a tourist information office in the nearby area. The streets were also deserted. Because it was raining, we huddled under the entrance to an apartment building while we got out our umbrella and the Fodor's guidebook. The choice was to go knocking randomly on hotel doors inquiring about the price and being disappointed and maybe turned away because we were foreigners or to phone the one very expensive place listed in Fodor's. We phoned the foreigner friendly place in Fodor's.

Tara quickly assesed, in Japanese, that the price was 15,000 Yen per person including meals. Now, using all her Japanese abilities, she embarked on determining whether or not we could be served meals that included absolutely no seafood. She said over and over again "zenzen shifudo o tabemasen" (we never eat seafood), "ga, Nihonryoki ga suki desu." (but we like Japanese food). "Taboyba, soba ya ramen ya tonkatsu ya udon ya kare nado go daisuki desu". (For example, we like these Japanese foods and listed them). She was asked about specific sealife and would continually respond "zenzen shifudo o tabemasen". It went like this:
No, we never eat seafood.
No, we never eat seafood.
No, we never eat seafood.

Finally, Tara was confident that we would not be served seafood and said that we'd like to stay at Tachibanya. When it came to figuring out where the hotel was located, the man on the phone took the easy way out and said, in English, "we pickup". I told him the name of the ryokan we were currently standing in front of and we waited. Very soon a van stops in front of us and we climb in.

The Tachibanya ryokan was many notches up from where we were used to sleeping! We were given a registration card and shown to a window table overlooking the gorgeous Japanese garden. Tara, making sure yet again, explained that we didn't eat seafood. The lady said please wait a moment and then disappeared. We filled out our registration card and admired the fish swimming just outside the window. The Japanese garden was spectacular! In a little while, a man headed over and introduced himself. He spoke some English and welcomed us to the hotel. Tara showed him the Fodor's book we'd found his hotel listed in and she again checked to make sure he understood that we didn't eat seafood. He asked if we liked soba and we said "yes, we like soba". So, he gave us a map of the town, explained where a soba restaurant was located and then another lady came by to escort us up to our room.

We were a bit uncertain at that point as to whether or not our 15,000 Yen per person was going to include food or not. Why had we been given a map showing us where a soba restaurant was located? hmmmmm... We were too far commited at this point to back out.

The lady who showed us up to our room was the most patient and kind lady we could have hoped for. She served us tea, showed us many features in our room and then spent at least 10 minutes with Tara explaining what would happen for the rest of the day - all in Japanese of course! She explained that normal check-in was at 3pm and as it was only 11am, we should go out for lunch (thus the town map to the soba restaurant). We should be in our room at 4pm though, since someone in a kimono would come to greet us then. She also explained that our 30,000 Yen got us the room and two meals. The meals would be served to us in our room. We were to tell the person in the kimono at 4pm what time we wanted to eat. Tara yet again made sure that this lady understood that we "shifudo o zenzen tabemasen". She also explained to us things like the hours for the hot tubs and checkout in the morning. She was extremely patient when Tara didn't understand something and even wrote down important facts on the hotel stationary for us. We felt much more comfortable by the time she left. Tara even translated some of what she'd written down and determined that the person coming at 4pm in a kimono was the boss.

What a room! For under 10,000 Yen total per night, we were used to having one small 8 mat room containing one small table and pillows to be used as chairs. Here we had three tables in the main hotel area - one low to the floor with wood-backed chairs, a second one with similar chairs over a pit for our feet to hand down and a third in a carpeted balcony area with legged-chairs. Not only did we have a main room, but we had a huge entryway leading to a small kitchen! There was also a large vanity area connected to a toilet room and a bathing room. The wet room for bathing was constructed entirely of cedar wood - even the tub. It was amazing how much space we had. All in all, it was over a 20 mat room.

We changed into our yukattas and settled into the table over the pit so that our legs could hang down into the pit area. It was very relaxing just to sit and read our books. Evenutally we decided we had better forage out into the town for food since it was possible that restaurants might close between lunch and dinner. We had no problem finding a restaurant serving katsu kare. After lunch we took an extra 15 minutes to walk the whole length of the town before heading back to our hotel.

Seth needed an after-lunch nap, so we stayed in our room reading, relaxing and watching other guests arrive. Some guests arrived in their own vehicles, but we also saw two big tour busses unload. At exactly 4pm we heard a knock on our door. Lo and behold, there was a woman standing at our door in a kimono. She asked us when we'd like dinner and Tara again made sure to get our point across about never eating seafood. The kimono lady said she understood that we didn't eat seafood. We were sure by not that everyone in the hotel knew we didn't eat seafood and that's exactly how we wanted it. Since we were spending nearly 300 USD for a hotel room and two meals - Tara desperately wanted to make sure those meals had the promise of being edible! We settled on 6pm for dinner and received a really deep bow as the kimono lady departed.

We had just enough time before dinner for a quick trip down to the hotel's bath.

Dinner arrived promptly at 6pm. Seth wasn't yet done with his bath and since he had the key to the room, Tara was there to greet the kimono lady again but couldn't let her into the room. After a bit of explaining, she went off to get a key. By the time Seth arrived, the table was set and the kimono lady was just leaving. She said she'd be back. We tentatively looked at the various food dishes that had been set out for us. Nothing smelled of fish! That was a good first sign. We had soba, various pickled dishes and vegetable tempura. It was mostly tasty. The only no-go was the wine. We were not sure if this was the whole meal or not. So, we ate what we liked the most and even enjoyedsome of the questionable dishes. Tara figured we'd be getting at least something else since the kimono lady had said "I'll be back." And get more we did. The food just kept coming & kept coming. The next round consisted of steak and potatoes! Seriously, I guess that's what you feed foreigners who insist that they don't eat fish. We were served a steak with potatoes. It was yummy and by now we were full. However, the kimono lady had said again "I'll be back". The third round was rice, salad, miso soup and honeydew melon. This time when she left she said "please call 8 when you are finished." It was way too much food, but we kept eating. We were so gratefull that we'd gotten anything edible that to have a yummy meal was a real bonus.

After dinner we discovered a real benefit to chairs that have no legs. You can simply lean over to the side after eating until you are laying on the floor. Thus, we both flopped sideways onto the tatami map - stuffed to the gills. After a significant time of laying on the floor across our chairs, we managed to waddle to the legged-chairs in the balcony area. We closed the rice paper doors and enjoyed a nice shimmery light through the panes. Seth even gave Tara a very nice footrub as we discussed how lucky we were. We never did phone 8 to have our dinner dishes collected.

At about 9pm, the kimono lady came back with the futon man. Our dishes were cleared, our table pushed to the side and our futons layed out. What a nice treat!


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