The Impostors of Ginzan Onsen

I’ve been struggling for awhile now with keeping these posts nice and concise and readable. So I’m going to impose a 500-word limit on myself for at least the next few entires and see where I end up.

It’s been rather busy in Tokyo these past few weeks. My sister, step-brother, step-brother’s best friend a.k.a psuedo-step brother, and one of my best friends from the last year in Tokyo all came through in the last few weeks, over scattered, somewhat overlapping intervals. Actually my friend is still in Tokyo, the last of the visitors.

Especially while my sister was around we did so much traveling that I don’t even know where to begin. With the whole family crew we went down to Okinawa (the very southern island prefecture, maybe 1000km from Tokyo) for about 5 days. Then the following week my sister and I did a one-night stay at this beautiful old hot springs village in the mountains of Yamagata (a prefecture to the north of Tokyo) called “Ginzan Onsen” (silver mountain hot springs in English— or “silver mine hot springs” but I think the former sounds far more poetic).

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Ginzan Onsen village

In a way, Ginzan Onsen wasn’t precisely the sort of destination my sister and I usually go for. It’s so prohibitively expensive, both getting there via shinkansen (~25,000yen rt or $225 each) and staying in the ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) (an unimaginable $300 a night for the both of us) that it would usually be far beyond our means. And even though we did indeed pay these prices in full, like any other common visitor, we couldn’t shake the feeling of being somehow impostors.

For example, our ryokan served a luscious dinner of a grand variety of Japanese foods. It was a beautiful display, ripe for copious photo-taking, and its taste as delicate and delicious as its appearance. But I could feel myself intentionally slowing my movements, rigiding my back, floating my chopsticks-clad hand over the array of dishes with an unnatural, assumed sort of grace while I carefully surveyed the choices. And when this clumsy grace broke down and my tempura piece slipped to the floor and the old couple to my left glanced down at me dubiously, I couldn’t help but blush violently and pathetically.

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I think, ultimately, my favorite part of the trip might have been when, while hiking around the mountains that nestle the onsen village, we climbed boldly into the abandoned silver mine. At the time it was completely unlit and therefore, once we had descended the metal entry stairs, was purely and thickly dark, the air pervaded with a chill mist. We had to use our iPhone flashlights to see 3 feet in front of us, feeling our way along the railings, sliding our sneakers along the metal passageway. We were halfway through and suspended 10 feet above the ground in the silver cavern before our courage nearly failed us and we almost turned back. But just then, we saw a faint light coming from the other end and scrambled towards it and out.

Actually, at the time, we emerged hotly cursing our recklessness and vowing never to do something like that again. But truthfully it’s just our method of traveling that we’ll always prefer a creepy adventure like that over an elaborate, experience meal.

 

 

 

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