Sunday, May 1, 2011

Arima! The Hot Spring Resort that is in my back yard.

Kobe, from a physical layout standpoint, is in many ways similar to Chile - the developed and urban part of the city is a long and skinny belt squeezed between the mountains and the sea running (roughly) from east to west. And in this thin belt lies some majority of the population (I would guess 80 - 85%). However, unlike Chile, the physical boundaries of the city extend well beyond the mountains.

Basically everything shown here is part of Kobe, but clearly the majority of the development is by the sea.

This all goes to say that there are parts of Kobe which are rather rural (and partially towards explaining how a major metropolis of 1.5 million can be world famous for an agricultural product - Kobe beef). One such seemingly un-urban destination that lays (lies?) within the city boundaries would be 有馬 (Arima - lit: Existing Horses) the hot spring town. From the current world headquarters of Japanalog, this enclave of geothermic delight lies (lays?) a mere 15 minutes by car, thanks to years of public works money that have honeycombed the mountains with an endless web of slope-hugging highways, valley-spanning bridges and mountain-piercing tunnels, all of which seem to be strictly obeying the axiom that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, regardless of how many tons of earth must be rearranged in the process.

So here nestled among the mountains, yet profoundly accessible by car, bus, or (of course) rail, is the little valley of Arima:

Arima has a wide variety of body warming bodies of water in which to indulge. Everything from the free foot baths:

To the two main public baths:

This is the Gold Bath (not to be confused in anyway whatsoever with a golden shower) - it is so called because of the presence of minerals which give the water a rusty orange-ish tint. (although even those of without a PhD in marketing can recognize that "Gold Bath" sounds a quint-jillion times more appealing than "Rusty Bath")

The other main public bath is the Silver Bath:

This bath features more regularly colored waters, but again, "Silver Bath" beats out "Normally-Colored Water Bath" any day of the week.

The rest of the baths in town are some form of hot-spring resort, often attached to a hotel and featuring spas, massages, skin-peels, reflexology treatments, restaurants, scented candles, low lighting, waterfalls, cotton robes, and have the same general affect on your central nervous system as a Quaalude.

Oh - and since there is a high degree of not-wearing-clothes this is about as far into the land of resort spa as my camera was allowed.

So lets say you are an uptight westerner with an aversion to stripping bare in the presence of total strangers to share in a nice hot communal bath. What else is there for you to do and see in Arima? Honestly not a whole hell of a lot.

You could sample the famous soda rice-crackers that are sold every twenty-three centimeters on the street at souvenir shops

Don't get me wrong - they are rather tasty but there is only so they will go towards providing a meaningful diversion.

So why not try some of the other fare available around town:

Dango! Sweet mochi balls on a stick! (Mochi is essentially rice that has been pounded by a wooden hammer to the point that it has become a chewy, sticky, gelatinous paste.)

Or (much more in my vein) some sausages and pickles with a nice dark beer while puzzling out the latest level of my Japanese study game for the Nintendo DSi.

Once you have sated your physical needs for nourishment, why not try the Toy Museum?

Was it awesome? I don't know! Someone who shall remain nameless balked at the idea of paying $8 for a ticket - although this same individual thought nothing of dropping a much larger number of yen on a massage which could only be enjoyed by one person. So if you ever go to this museum please let me know how it was. I am totally not bitter about this part of the day.

I did get to see the gift shop however. It is nice to know that the Scandinavian countries have found a way to take a block of wood, some string, and a ball bearing, carve it into a toy that does one mildly amusing trick, give it a name with some crazy vowels (like Grønåbül) and then charge as much for it as you would reasonably expect to pay for the latest video game system. Apparently a diet of herring gives you enormous balls.

If you are in a more inquisitive mood, you can hike around town and find the 源泉 (Gensen, or origin of the spring)

Found it! Now what?

Below is another one that was under construction

And if none of this amuses you, just go hit up the alcohol vending machines:

Though these are by no means unique to Arima, that shouldn't stop you from partaking in their fine wares.

Other scenes of note:

This town is not fucking around when it comes to hot springs; even the water in the gutters is in on the act:

Here the central river has been made into a lovely Dr. Seuss-ian maze of bridges, collecting ponds, staircases and platforms.

But before you think this is all fun and games be sure to note:

I have never seen two children with more terrified expressions over rain - however they are not without reason for showing such pant-wetting panic in the face of weather.

This is showing a 10 minute difference. So run kiddies run.

And who is going to save the children in such an event?

Why these fine folks! This is a recruitment poster for the fire department, but could easily be a poster for a late-70's fire-brigade drama airing Tuesdays at 7 on CBS.
Another season of cherry blossoms has come and gone - and once again I was remiss in actually pulling together a 花見 (Hanami - literally flower viewing) party. But that doesn't mean I didn't have time to go out and take pictures of other people's.

Again, as I so often do, I marvel at the ability of large crowds of people to gather in tight spaces, consume quantities of alcohol that would stun a yak, cook with open flames, and have zero instances of violence break out.