I happily resaddled my bike to ride across the flat of the dam's top. Looking all the down the side of the dam, all I wanted to do was slide down to the bottom of the refreshing looking pool. More realistically, on the other side of the dam was a large part of the river that looked amazingly delicious to swim in. After riding for so long in the heat, I couldn't think of anything better than to dive in, but I looked around all of the banks to the water, and they were lined with steep grades of bushes and such. This was a popular tourist spot with picnic benches and informational boards, but no way to get into the water. Here was a wonderful place for the Japanese to make the water accessible, but no, of course not. Someone might drown because "water in nature is scary." My frustration was peaking, but soon subsided as I reasoned the onsen was close and I was immersed in exploring the dam.
On the other side of the dam was a series of ladders that lead all the way to the bottom, and only had a low gate barring entry. "Mmmmm" I thought. Just below the top where I was, there was a door that led into the dam itself. I looked around, saw nobody, and quickly jumped down one level to jiggle the handle. Locked. Of course. I quickly climbed back up, and gave up on any James Bond activity for the moment.
I looked down the road and saw a bridge, leading to a tunnel that went into a mountain to some unknown desitination. I certainly wanted to follow it, but if I went down every strange road in the mountains, I would need another 10 years in this area of bike adventures every weekend. Those similar such roads I've followed before have rarely ended, and seem to be for other dams or powerlines.
Well, back on track for the homestretch to Ogawa onsen. One way would be to take a nice small overgrown road around the mountain, but it was roped off. The other way was an enclosed tunnel instead of the one with an open side that I ascended earlier. These tunnels are not fun to pass through. They are dark, the sidewalks are barely wider than my handle bars, the pedestrian paths are raised a foot from the road, and have steep curving concrete walls on the side. The sound of even a single car thunders deafeningly through the whole tunnel. It takes the utmost relaxation and trust to keep pedaling straight ahead as cars pass only feet away. Usually these tunnels are not heavily trafficked, but I surely get through them as fast as posibble. They are probably the most dangerous part of my bike trips. One interesting thing is that these tunnels are always extremely damp. Puddles in the road, dripping water from the cieling, and containing very cool air. I imagine it's from clouds/fog/mist that is trapped in there.
Ah finally, Ogawa onsen. Or at least the Ogawa onsen hotel. These moments have become priceless for me. The satisfaction of reaching the destination is momentarily accompanied by the shocked gazes of passerbys. In this case they were vacationing Japanese relaxing in the ambiance of nature and comfort of onsen. But then comes me, a disheveled, smelly, hairy, sunburnt gaijin stumbling off his bike in the parking lot. I think I used to be self conscious about these kinds of things, but that's not such a good feeling to express because often times Japanese will meet you with equal if not increased awkwardness. But now I just smile, bow, and give a hearty "konnichiwa!" This is also usually met with equal enthusiasm. This is actually a great example of a gaijin's experience in Japan. If you are scared, nervous, and self conscious, the country will close in around you with uncomfortable looks. But if you embrace the concepts of genki (energetic/enthusiastic) and ganbaru (persevering/giving effort) with a big smile and nod of the head, oceans will part before you with the applause of the Japanese population.
The man who gave me the passes to the onsen earlier mentioned there were two onsen at Ogawa. One was a nice modern one which he praised, and the other which was an old boring one he squinched his nose at. So I continued along the road to scout out the area. I reluctantly climbed some stairs into the trees to find this large Buddhist statue, and found a sign leading to the old onsen. One path was gravel, and another was grassy, but again roped off. If you haven't noticed, this is another pet peeve of mine with Japan. The number of unneccesary ropes and signs prohibiting entry to perfectly fine areas is really inhibiting my adventurous nature. To the Japanese, it seems that someone has made a safe clean road to be shepherded conveniently on, so you had better use it.
I stepped over the pathetic rope anyway.
My path followed maybe 10 feet away from the safe one, which was along a very refreshing looking river that I would love to get in, but there was no clear path through the brush to it, and there were signs telling people not to swim in it and had pictures of drowning children and monkeys. All I want to do is get into some cold natural water before the onsen, but it's just impossible if you follow the rules around here.
I grumbled along the path and found a shack with signs that looked like the "men" and "women" curtains that usually hang before the changing rooms to onsen. I looked up to find a small pool that went slightly into the side of a rock cliff. It was obviously natural due to the effect the water had on the rocks. But I was confused because I couldn't tell if you were allowed to go in. Men? Women? Both? I poked around and heard and old woman attendant walking around with a cleaning bucket. She saw me look into the men's side of the changing shack, but when I came out and she saw me again, she leaped back absolutely surprised to see me. I also used to be nervous talking to older people because the language barrier can be so wide, but hesitation only results in increased confusion. I comfortably enter these conversations expecting each participant to only understand about a quarter of what each other are trying to say, and I use as simple and direct Japanese as possible.
"What is this place?"
"blah blah blah blah Buddhist blah blah blah."
I look over towards the steaming water and see incense and a small Buddhist statue. I look back at the "men" and "women" curtains.
"Is this an onsen?"
"Can I enter?"
I saw a rocky path that climbed up and around the onsen.
"Can I go up there?"
"blah blah blah cannot blah blah blah."
"Uhhhh ... OK."
"Excuse me. Sorry. Thank you."
"Excuse me. Thank you."
I turned around and waited for her to shuffle away. Then I looked back three seconds later and saw no trace of her. I peered around all corners and in all doors. Still no sign. She just disappeared.
Anyway, I took her "cannot" for, "you cannot help but go up there", and climbed the rocky path.
After being in Japan for a year and recently returning from a week in the States, my appreciation for certain nuances in Japanese culture have increased, but my respect for unnecessary limitations has dropped through the floor. I now play my "gaijin card" in any situation I deem harmless.
The path became more overgrown with every step and ended where a small concrete tunnel began. I peered in and saw no end. My feet had disappeared beneath thick bushes and shrubs, and the mosquitoes had been replaced by what I think were hornets, and that was the end of it. Any Indiana Jones-ing reached it's limit with the bugs and I hightailed it out of there as quickly as possible cursing and flailing my arms. I had to find one of those safe Japanese paths again.
I got back to the onsen, saw no sign of the attendent, and went a little further along the path. There was another onsen with a changing shack that only had a "women"s" sign on it, so I took an innocent look around. The attendent reappeared and said that it was only for women. I dumbly looked at the sign and said, "Oh sorry! I still can't read kanji well. I'm sorry, excuse me, thank you!"
That was the furthest point of my journey, and time to finally get in the hotel onsen. I would have gone in the natural outside one, but going straight from the heat to hot onsen water didn't sound good without cleaning off in something colder first.
I can't believe how lucky I am to have such journeys anytime I decide to ride towards the mountains in search of onsen.
Cheers to small town Toyama.
Any desires to chase images to Tokyo and Kyoto have been extinguished for the time being.
After a long soak, a beer, and a twenty minute session in the massage chairs, I slowly exited the hotel and climbed on my bike to take the long downhill cruise into the sunset.
But not without one more cause of excitement.
Instead of taking the closed tunnel back, I took the grassy route along the side of the mountain.
It was certainly much nicer to bike on a grassy path in the fresh air as I looked down at the river. I had my head down and started thinking about monkeys, pondering the chances of seeing them around here, when all of a sudden, I heard a rustling in front of me and saw two monkey butts disappear into the bushes below. I followed quickly to look for them, but only heard their rustling. Then more noise in the bushes above me to the left. I was surrounded by them! I slowly walked my bike along the path with eyes glued to the bushes and trees around. Then in front of me about 30 meters were four monkeys sitting in the road. As I got closer, two ran away, but two sat and waited for me to get closer before darting into the bushes.
It should be known that I suffered tens of mosquito bites on my legs for these pictures. I've always attracted an above average amount of mosquito bites, but the ones here in Japan are just vicious. My bites here swell up huge and itch much more than any I've had elsewhere. (This does not include sand flies though which are even a million times worse.) I guessed that a week's worth of itching hell was worth this short monkey experience.
This has become a regular Saturday for me, and each week I grow thirstier for such adventures. Sunday I usually write on the blog, relax, and hang out with friends, but I need another dose of bike riding this weekend.
On my way home, I'm already planning the next day's adventure.