I just unpacked everything back into my room in Kikyou, waiting to do my laundry for the weekend and study for another week’s worth of kanji.
It started raining Friday night and hasn’t stopped all weekend. Onuma was a big wet Seattle-esque high school trip, but it happened in a Sofia Coppola choreographed lime green walls in the middle of nowhere Japanese Overlook hotel, with orange tatami and futon and laundered yukatas.
First of all we were all picked up by a travel bus at various stops through Hakodate, from the Goryokaku train station to Nanae. My stop was at a nearby video rental store. Host Mother drove me there and waited with me in the car so I didn’t have to stand in the rain, lent me her umbrella, and then walked me, as all the other host mothers did the same, umbrella over my head, to where the bus was parked. As we drove away all of our host mothers stood in a group, talking and waving us goodbye.
It was about a half hour drive up into Onuma, whose signs proudly declared it as a “Quasi-National Park”. Rain slid down the windows. We parked and were shooed off the bus, at the visitor center.
Onuma is supposed to be a lakeside resort town. It has plenty of おみやげ (souvenir) shops, tacky stands, soft cream stalls, ramen, udon, soba, hamburger cafes, and a big walk around the lily-pad covered lake. As we all disembarked the bus, it was totally deserted. All HIF students cowered in the visitor center’s overhang as the wind blew gusts of rain at us. Helpless, and with two hours meant for fun, we watched the travel bus pull away.
There was a Lord of the Flies-esque splitting of groups and then we were off. I ended up in a large group looking for shelter and ramen. But somewhere along the lines I began to dread everything about that, the complaining freezing American students with their sopping paper map, and so set off alone to find a cheeseburger and coffee. The group split and two others joined me. We walked empty, freezing streets. Most shops appeared closed.
As soon as I saw a cheeseburger stand we drew away and ordered there. I got my cheeseburger and coffee. The others in my group got hot soba and a squid burger, respectively. We all sat in a clinical waiting room with magazines and an orange surfboard over our heads. Inscribed in blue: “GORO’S HAMBURGER’S”
It was nice to be warm, and we lingered. Setting off again there was nothing much to do besides look for other places to loiter. Eventually we ended up back at the visitor’s center and read until the bus. (Worst of all were the unlucky students who had signed up earlier in the sunny breezy week for the later bus, who were stuck at the quasi-national park for another two and a half hours.)
Damp and silent, the bus took us up into the forest to the Greenpia Onuma Hotel. A life-size cartoon giraffe greeted us on the front lawn. We all unloaded and gathered in the lobby, which was cavernous, carpeted in a mint green, with matching chairs and coffee tables, spruced everywhere with wedding decorations. We stood in a group as two hotel attendants showed us the yukatas given for our stay, standing on the table and giving a live demonstration how to wear it the right way. (The right side of the yukata is tucked under the left side. If it’s the reverse, you are mourning.) With that, our HIF leaders handed out keys, and we were given free reign of the hotel until 6:00.
I was in a room with three other girls on the third floor. It was a full tatami room with a low table in the middle, rose silk low chairs, and pink futons stacked in the cabinet with yukatas and obis and sheets. We had a bath and toilet room and a view over the front lawn (still raining). All the other girls in my room unanimously agreed to take a nap. I left to try out the hotel’s onsen.
It couldn’t compare to Yachigashira’s volcano driven baths, but it had hot water and complimentary shampoo and a rotenburo outside. I tried a circulation of each tub and went outside this time, which was amazing. Being in a hot bath and watching the steam float away into maple saplings and being rained on all at once was よくできた Japan. The only terrible thing that happened here was being joined but not one or two but at least ten girls in my program, which put the serenity, and my private onsen time, to a rapid end. :(
I dried off and went upstairs, got goodies from the hotel shop (raw Hokkaido milk, chocolate tree shaped cookies), and was finally, finally, finally after a week of futility, able to Skype Nate. That in itself was a strangely dimensional experience. Because all of a sudden you’re home, but then you’re in this green chair, having the run of this hotel with nothing to do in Japan, still hot and soft from the chlorine onsen. But I was so happy to have a little heart of the Malloy back with me in all the obscurity and things that are/are not.
By the time I’d finished it was close to dinner so we all gathered in the hotel’s banquet hall. They served everyone a traditional Japanese feast on china and clay-ware: crab legs and lemon, tuna and salmon sashimi, octopus, red bean, chilled tofu, what we think was a vinegar skin, savory pudding, miso soup with clams in the shell, leeks and mushrooms and meat we cooked in our own dish of oil, a family sized barrel of rice, green tea cakes and honeydew. During all that we had the HIF talent show, which was really just a school-wide performance of Japanese songs that the classes hadn’t wanted to learn and essentially didn’t.
Afterwards the hotel provided the karaoke bar free for HIF and the bowling alley was open and the onsen and everything, but I was happy to buy a cheap bottle of sake with another student and take it up to the stairwell away from all the mess.
This morning there was a breakfast buffet and another trip alone to the onsen. Thankfully it was early enough to not be disturbed, and I was able to sit in the rotenburo and watch the rain still falling. We gathered our things and were out of the room by 9. The buses left at 10, and I walked back in the drizzle to Kikyou, feeling like I had just had an experience.
Honestly it wasn’t much fun at all. It shouldn’t have rained, and the amount of trapped student needs were nightmarish, but then you’re happy anyway and you’re all there in some lodge for the night.