Back in Tokyo now, which is sad because it means that the adventure is coming to an end, but there’s also a whole ton of cool stuff going in the next week and I get to do shopping! I am not usually this much a slave to consumerism but due to luggage restrictions I’ve been holding back on art supplies and things I really wanted but now I’m in Tokyo the duffle bag is out so I can get all these things I need! On that lovely note let’s talk about Atami, the new place that holds my heart. Taking Tokyo out of this equation, because Tokyo is its own entity unto itself, I think that Atami, Nikko, and Kyoto are places I just relaxed into. As the train pulled into Atami I felt like Kiki when she stumbles across the town she’s going to live in Kiki’s Delivery Service. There’s suddenly all these buildings, big and small, built into the side of these giant hills and cliffs. The town falls down to the bay which goes out as far as you can see. It was magical to see this suddenly appear as we sped by.
Atami Onsen Guesthouse Nagomi was enchanting. It was a very traditional Japanese ryokan, and my new friend Ito was the absolute perfect host. He spoke a little English and we had some good chats about photography and some good joking around. He is from Tokyo but moved to Atami for a quieter life, and he loved scuba diving and taking photos. He was brilliant and made me feel so welcome. The house itself has a large communal area with comfy chairs and huge windows that overlook the town below and the bay. I can see why Ito doesn’t want to ever go back to Tokyo, I mean Atami is only 45 mins away by train and has the sea and the mountains and a cheaper, more chilled out way of life. One of my food adventures in Atami was for Atami Purin. This little Purin stand had a huge line when I got there and for good reason. It was creamy, yummy pudding in a cute glass jar decorated with hippos with this bitter, dark caramel sauce. SO GOOD. I bought two and gave one to Ito as a thank you for being so awesome.
I went out and explored an old house, which was like the Japanese equivalent to one of those old Regency houses in the UK. Every room looked out onto this beautiful garden that was by far the centerpiece of the whole property. That’s a common theme in Japan, nature being the thing that ties you into wherever you are. A lot of the nicer places I stayed in, or whenever I went to shrines and castles and things, they all had these fantastic landscaped gardens which were more the focal point. You could lose yourself in gardens here, they are like whole other worlds. The Atami Plum Garden was an excellent example of this. It was built going uphill and was narrow but made use of its uphill space with winding paths going through so many trees. Even though the blossom was mostly gone the branches are just so twisting and beautiful, covered in this thick green moss. You find yourself at a waterfall and there’s a cave behind you can go through to be inside the waterfall. There’s a river running through, it runs through all of Atami actually, I think there is more than one river that does, and it’s winding shape is accentuated by bridges and willowy trees. There are mountains all around you and you just feel engulfed by nature, it’s a wonderful thing.
I went up to the Jukkoku Toge Cable Car because I WAS DETERMINED TO SEE MOUNT FUJI AGAIN. Alas Fuji was still hiding but the view from up there was breathtaking. Mountains all around and Atami below and you can see all the way out to where the bay meets the Pacific Ocean. The air up there was amazing, it smelled slightly sweet and grassy. They had these wicker sofas so you can just sit down and watch the world go by, quite literally as the clouds blow past you. I initially wasn’t going to spend that much time up there but it was so peaceful and I was able to just zone out so well it was hard to leave. As with 90% of places on my trip, this wasn’t full at all. There were maybe 20 people there if that, and I was the only non-Japanese tourist. I don’t feel uncomfortable about this at all, except for this one time a kid was making fun of me, and even then I just thought lol I don’t know what you’re saying so none of this matters at all. I had a little mental crash in Fujinomiya and was feeling a little lonely but Atami perked me right back up. The bus journey up to JukkokuToge is a little unnerving as you twist and turn up tiny roads on this huge bus. But you get some amazing views of the mountains and Atami as you do so. Just don’t get the wrong bus and listen to Google and walk halfway up a giant hill before realizing you are actually walking on a highway and this is BAD. GOOGLE IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT.
The Ryokan had an outside bath. I’ve never had an outside bath, and I come from an upbringing where you do not take any clothes off unless you are in the bathroom about to have a shower. My mum gets shocked when I wear a vest in my own room, it’s so silly. So the thought of taking a bath outside made me a little anxious. There are huge bamboo fences all the way around so no-one can see in. There’s a hut at the end of the enclosure and in the hut, you take off your yukata (and in my case my vest because IT WAS SO COLD OUTSIDE) and then you go and shower. Once you’ve showered you come back out of the hut and walk down the stone path to the onsen bath. The onsen is so beautiful at night. It’s got rocks that line the back and sides and raised out of the ground and all tiled in blue inside but made from wood panels on the outside. There is steam rolling off the water as it hits the cold air and there’s a few lamps for that all-important mood lighting. The first night the water was 41’C and once you’re inside nothing in the world matters anymore. It’s like being enveloped in the warmest hug. Every muscle in your body relaxes and your mind just slows down. I’m planning a novel at the moment and I had whole scenes play out in my head because I was able to slow down and chill out. The first night it was raining and that switch between hot bath and super cold rain was nice. The second night it was cloudy but if you looked up you could see Orion and the moon. Nighttime outside baths are my jam and I will never go back.
The next week is jam-packed and I am going to weeb my little heart out. I love you Japan, I love you and you are brilliant.