Sennin Buro and the Kumano Kodo Trail

February 2015: the long awaited First Trip to Japan. We had two glorious weeks to explore the Kansai region. Our goal? Experience as many onsen – traditional Japanese baths – as possible. Basing ourselves in Kyoto, we decided on just two side trips – one to Kinosaki, and one to the Kawa-yu Onsen area (specifically Yunomine, Watarase, and Kawa-yu Onsen). This post explores a portion of this trip: the Kawa-yu Onsen area and the Kumano Kodo Trail.

Kawa-yu Onsen Area

According to our Lonely Planet Guidebook to Japan, Yunomine, Watarase, and Kawa-yu Onsen are “among the best [onsen] in all of Kansai.” I quickly discovered why. All three are within easy walking distance from each other, though if sidewalks seem essential to your well-being the walk may challenge your comfort level. Each town provided distinct onsen experiences, making this a great crash course in the many styles of bathing available in Japan.

The main attraction for our stay was the Sennin Buro at Kawa-yu Onsen. The aqua-marine river sits on a bed of hot water, which trickles to the surface with varying degrees of strength. Throughout the year, tourists and locals alike can go down to the river bed, dig a hole in the stones, let hot water fill it up, and sit in a personal onsen bath. However, from December to February 28th, a section of the river is bulldozed to create a large rotemburo, where many people can sit and enjoy the hot mineral water together. In fact, “Sennin Buro” roughly translates to “thousand person bath,” though I wouldn’t have gone in with 1,000 other people.  

As an outside onsen, and one with mixed genders, bathing suits were expected. However, a few men (note: men only) stripped down to traditional bathing attire – nothing at all. I must admit I envied them at first. Bathing nude delights me. But after sitting awhile while hot algae encroached on my personal space, I felt grateful for the lycra protecting my special parts ;).

Kumano Kodo Trail Hike

In addition to the exceptional onsen in the area, Kawa-yu Onsen provides a great starting point to explore sections of the Kumano Kodo. Though many people refer to the Kumano Kodo as an ancient pilgrimage trail, this isn’t exactly correct. Instead, it is a series of trails and sub-trails that pilgrims took to reach Hongu Taisha – a holy site. Filled with World Heritage sites, ancient ruins of teahouses, shrines, and some well-placed vending machines, our experience with the Kumano Kodo certainly felt filled with the divine.

Instead of ending our section of the trail at Hongu Taisha, as would have happened historically, we went backwards. Hitting up Hongu Taisha in the early morning, our 11+ mile hike ended in Yunomine and the small World Heritage onsen. It was perfect. Well, except for the part where I got so excited about the onsen that I overheated and almost passed out – scaring the lovely, local, old Japanese women.

If you like hiking at all, I would highly suggest working this area into your itinerary. The meandering trail, the beautiful small shrines, and the remote feeling made this one of my favorite hikes to date. Though I am not generally a religious person, cleansing and praying on this trail filled me with peace.

I will definitely be back to this area in order to explore the mountains even more. Breathtaking views, atmospheric weather, and a hot bath at the end – how can it get better? Traveling in February, which may be slightly off-season for this area, made it even better. 10 out of 10. Would do again.

 

Why Don’t You Save Me? [Creative Writing Exercise]

Recently, at work, a few of us got together and practiced our creative writing skills. The prompt? We assigned our partner a song, and each person was to write a short story somehow related to the song. This could be by simply taking the title and utilizing it, or trying to capture the essence of the song in our story.

I received “Why Don’t you Save Me?”, by Kan Wakan. The story’s length was supposed to be around 500 words, which I somehow managed to keep under.

Why don't you

Image Used: Anna Schuleit via Colossal

Why Don’t You Save Me?

The girl sits in the room full of purple tulips crunching on ice. Each clash of her bright teeth makes the oxidized white metal chair quiver in pain, especially where her left hand grips its latticed seat. Sound vibrates and then stops, absorbed by the foliage around her feet – encased in hundreds of water filled vases. The air smells softly of decay, dust, and sweat. The sound of a shutter makes Violet startle; a flash of disgust crosses her face as she deliberately grinds another ice cube and places the glass on the white metal table. Condensation drips down and adds to the pool of water around the glass’ base. She wraps her bare feet around the inside of the chair’s legs and looks up. The shutter snaps.

“Are we done? I’m tired.” Violet’s loose white dress grazes her collarbones and billows out, barely covering her knees. Her skin blushes rose wherever it makes contact with the fabric and at the end of all extremities. The pintucks waterfall down her front and the entire cotton ensemble, in stark contrast to the expression on her face, creates an angelic picture. Twisting her face with scorn she lobbs an ice cube out of her cold mouth towards the shutter sound.

“I hate this room. I don’t care how much you pay me, I hate it.”

“Why don’t you leave, then?”

“You know very well I can’t,” Violet answers, almost incredulously. “I have a contract.” She gulps another ice cube and continues crunching.

“Then shut up and smile. I can’t take good pictures when you look like a demon.” Violet looks away and down as the shutter snaps.

“Did you know that they used to make purple from sea snails?” Using her free hand, Violet reaches down to touch a tulip. Her black hair cascades off her shoulder, partially obscuring her face, completing a line that runs from her hand enclosing the wet glass, across her bare arms to her downcast eyes and ending with her pink-tipped fingers on the flower. The shutter snaps.

“Crushing the snails makes a dye, purple, like this.” She picks up a flower and holds it out. The shutter snaps. Methodically Violet starts to crush the flower, looking coldly in the camera’s direction. The shutter snaps once, twice, and again.

“Tyrian Purple,” she said.

“What is?”

“The color from the molluscs!”

“Just shut up.”

“I hate you.” Violet kicks the tulips closest to her chair. The shutter snaps. She pushes her chair so that it falls behind her, shattering vases on its way down. The shutter snaps. Next the table seems to overturn almost on it’s own as Violet throws her glass of water against a wall. Breathing heavily, her hand somehow bleeding, her hair flat and stringy against her face, Violet stands amid the chaos. The shutter snaps one last time.

“There, finally, a picture worth keeping. You can leave.”

Friday Obsessions: Journelle Sale!!

While I’m a little late for their yearly July sale (most of those discounted items are gone already), Journelle currently has an amazing sale section. If you hadn’t guessed from the picture, Journelle is an online lingerie boutique. They have many great designers – from La Perla, to Huit, Ella MacPherson, Fleur of England, and Myla – as well as awesome customer support.

My recent obsession? Filling up my shopping cart with all the amazingly beautiful things I could desire, staring at them longingly, clearing my cart, and starting over. However, if, unlike me, you have a job currently with some income flow, you may want to check them out and actually buy something. There is no reason to have ugly, ill-fitting lingerie. If you shop smart, you can have beautiful pieces that fit and support you to your level of comfort. Check carefully the fit notes for each style, as they comment if the bra runs small or large. Also, don’t hesitate to start an online chat support with them – they are incredibly nice and helpful.

Clothing in Detail: Naja

It’s finally time for another look at interesting Bay Area companies. Next up: lingerie company Naja. Founded by Catalina Girald, who seems like an adventurous free spirit mixed with a shrewd businesswoman, the company’s byline is Underwear for Hope. This might seem a bit grandiose at first, until you really look at what the company is doing. Each time you buy a bra from their company it comes with a lingerie wash bag. Each lingerie bag is sewn by women in impoverished communities. It doesn’t stop there. The Naja team trained these women in order to give them valuable skills to support their families. Often they are single mothers, and their employment lets their daughters finally attend school. The stories of some of the participants are on the website, and they are quite moving.

Women empowering women – this is the real idea behind this lingerie brand, and I think it’s lovely. A portion of all the proceeds goes to continually fund their entrepreneurial sewing school, which then produces skilled labor to continue their Underwear for Hope campaign. I think it’s a great system, with a real social conscience behind it.

On top of the great moral compass, Naja has an awesome aesthetic. I haven’t personally bought any of their lingerie yet, but after stalking them online for quite some time, I can say with confidence that I will. Interesting details abound, including inspirational quotes in their undies, contrast/patterned lining inside bra cups, and hilariously motifs for their panties. I personally always enjoy humor in my own design, and in what I wear, so finding the rare company that shares this makes me incredibly happy. Materials also matter to them; another huge mark in my book. They currently use a beautiful pima cotton for their panties, and I think we all know that cotton panties really are the best for everyday use. :)

This brand, though it’s getting lots of great press (USA Today and The Lingerie Addict come to mind), is still just starting out. Many of their styles are pre-order currently. Also, the sizes do not yet cover everyone. However, I would really encourage anyone who would like to be part of this socially conscious brand to try them out anyway. Get a few panties, and maybe one of their bras. I think you will be happily surprised at the results. Alternatively, you could also be a part of their Indiegogo campaign. 

Just for fun, I’ve added some photos below to get you in the mood to shop! I apologize, because I do not yet own any of their pieces, I had to just lift pictures from their websites and other social media campaigns of theirs.

Nowness: Great Garden Series

Over the last few weeks, on Tuesdays, I’ve been heading over to the website Nowness to see their Great Gardens series. While I don’t always like what Nowness puts out, this series has struck me as particularly charming and interesting. The last one is up today, so I would encourage you all to go and watch it. I include the links to them all, starting from the first one, below. Happy Tuesday!

The Gardener’s Garden: Great Dixter

Fantasy Island: Tresco Abby Garden

The Secret Garden: Ford Ranch

Trees Company: Cotubin

Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage

 

Friday Obsessions: Swiss Miss in bulk.

swissmiss

Okay, this is a bit of a confessional. While I love all kinds of hot chocolate – Ryan makes a delectable burnt carmel/ginger/chocolate concoction – I have recently been obsessed with Swiss Miss. Not the packet kind, I’ll have you know, but the bulk kind that comes in a tin. While it most likely retains the exact ingredient ratios of the individual packets, somehow it’s better. It hits all the right nostalgia buttons, and it’s super convenient: just hot water with a milk topper. I’m almost ashamed to admit it, in the food-obsessed culture of the Bay Area, but I seriously love this stuff. Lately I’ve even been adding a bit of cardamom to it. Mmmm Mmmm. Delicious.

Invasion in blue

I somehow feel that the California coast has entered a blue period. Like Picasso. I first noticed this trend on the beaches near Prairie Creek, far north California. Small, plastic yet organic-looking pieces of something indigo-tinged that had washed up on the sand kept distracting me as I trudged along. Finally, I squatted down to inspect and decided they looked like some kind of jelly fish. But not. Maybe some type of clam, or mussel dislodged from it’s shell, but that was wrong too. Though I have never lived directly on the ocean, the Pacific has always been a dominating factor in my life – camping trips as a child, lonely, wind-full walks as an adolescent, and always, always tide pooling. I had never seen these things before, at least not in my conscious memory, so I felt curious, and slightly worried.

Brushing it off, I focused on the walk back to the car – another four miles – and decided to research it when I finally got home. I forgot. Then, a few weeks ago, I was at Ocean Beach, in San Francisco, and I saw them again. This time I touched one. The clear plastic-like mohawk intrigued me and was hard but almost squishy at the same time. I vowed I would get to the bottom of this. I forgot, of course, as soon as I got home.

It turns out I must be living under a rock, because California social media has been ablaze with these things for weeks. They’ve turned the coastline entirely blue in some areas. Instagram, IFLScienceHuffinton Post, and even the Los Angeles Times has run amuck with what I know now to be Velella velella. They are fascinating creatures. While some news outlets seem to think they are rather disgusting, I would have to disagree.

My initial research suggested that science had decided that, not unlike coral, Velella was a collection of animal organisms in a small colony. This is what Wikipedia says, as does several of the other articles and videos I’ve watched. However, an article on BayNature written in 2014, by a naturalist Michael Ellis, says that careful research has now concluded that they are in fact individual animals, just incredibly complex. This was reiterated to me when I read another article in OneWorldOneOcean, by Sarah Bedolfe, written in 2013.

This is not the only mystery about these creatures. One scientist said they haven’t been seen in around 8 years, while another says that the bloom is just a little later than normal. Regardless, all seem to agree that while unusual, this invasion shouldn’t be alarming and is well within the bounds of nature. In addition, there isn’t much known about the little creatures themselves. While their basic life cycle is known, where and exactly how they do this lifecycle stuff is up for debate.

For example, each of the little sails either goes from left to right, or from right to left. Depending on the sail (lefties vs. righties) they are in different parts of the world. Sails angled to the right end up along the cost of California because of wind – but just the right type of wind so that they normally stay afloat in the ocean and not on our shores. Lefties, on the other hand, end up on the other side of the Pacific in Japan, Korea, etcetera. Do all Velella produce offspring that have both sails, and they are torn apart at adulthood like some terrible soap opera?  Sailboats at the mercy of the wind? Or do lefties produce lefties and righties only rights? Like a society rife with social segregation. As Ellis points out, we don’t know.

Perhaps, like Picasso’s Blue Period – those three years of anguished painting – the Velella velella will experience a newfound revival in our generation because of this mass death, and these mysteries will be solved. For now, here are just a couple pictures of these fascinating and mysterious blue creatures, and one of the ocean because I couldn’t help myself.     

Not another War game: Valiant Hearts

Ryan and I just finished a beautiful game. Frankly, I was shocked at how well it turned out. At first glance Valiant Hearts looks like an interesting point and click game that might make you a bit sad, but with a cute art style and a dog, I figured it was lighthearted war puzzle game. Well, in some ways it is, but it also delivered so much more.

August 2nd marks the date of the first military skirmish in World War 1, exactly 100 year ago. Often called The Great War, it’s horrors and traumas introduced the world to modern warfare, and in the introduction, more than 9 million combatants were killed. This year, 2014, some cities are honoring the casualties, the human sacrifice, in beautiful and moving ways. The Tower of London, for instance, overflows with red ceramic poppies, one for each military fatality. In Amersham, a field of six foot crosses will be unveiled. Perhaps in that same spirit of remembrance, UbiSoft created a moving and beautiful game that not only delights its participants with its great art direction and play style, but reminds us of the humanity behind the war.

While the premise is anything but uplifting, the actual game play is fun, engaging, and at times even silly. Instead of taking the more usual approach to war gaming and handing the characters guns, Valiant Hearts highlights a different side. Plenty of action happens throughout the game, and even the cartoon style can’t mask the horror, but much of it takes place around you, as you figure out how to help people escape predicaments, deal with gas attacks, or break out of POW camp. The highlights? For us, experiencing high speed car chases timed perfectly to music was particularly enjoyable, I was laughing pretty hard. The puzzles are fun, but not usually too challenging. We played on Veteran Mode after hearing others say that the default mode hints and prompts make the game incredibly easy. But that is something I liked about the game as well. It’s accessible to all level of game players.

While a few reviewers (linking to the IGN one) found the footnotes and extra information about the War heavy handed and unnecessary, both Ryan and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Each chapter brought with it more information about how soldiers and civilians dealt with the chaos around them, and while there were some facts I already knew, it brought to light others I did not. There are also hidden items throughout the game with small stories or facts attached to them, which once again brings reality and humanity back into an industry that thrives on warfare – games.  Perhaps if the only agenda of the game was to have fun, then yes, the approach is heavy handed, but especially considering this year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the war, I found the game moving, informative, and a tribute to a generation of people we shouldn’t forget.

 

Image Credit: A great interview about the game and the cool picture I lifted from it can be found in the link.

Friday Obsessions: Jam Man

chet atkins

I know, I know, you have probably heard a portion of this song on Esurance commercials since the Superbowl. However, that doesn’t make it any less extraordinary. Chet Atkins, the Guitar Man, really influenced, and continues to do so, an entire generation of sound and music. His unique sound, incredible ability to freestyle, and crazy technique make him a stand out musician.

So take a moment, and enjoy in it’s entirety one of my favorite Chet Atkins songs:

 

Image Credit: NPR. They also have a very nice article about him.

Clothing in Detail: Everlane

I’m starting a new series of posts!!!! As you probably know, I love writing about books, video games, and a few other random topics. Well, now I’m going to do a series on clothing companies. Dah dah dah DAHHHHHH!

Production – how something is made, the quality of it’s fabrication, and the environmental/human impact a company has – is very important to me. Last year I did some research into production, conducted a few interviews, and wrote a blog post about the experience. I promised that I would pass on any companies that I felt were doing great things in the fashion industry, and while looking for jobs, talking to friends, and shopping myself, I’ve found a few. 

Some of these companies are doing great things in their production process and some of them are using technology in cool ways – I’ll let you know why I like each one. I am posting these companies because I genuinely find their business interesting, and their aesthetics are worth looking into. Since it’s a lot of information, I’ll be highlighting one company at a time.

First up: Everlane

This company really might be my favorite. They practice something called ‘radical transparency,’ which means they tell you everything. Seriously, they give a lot of information. Each item has a breakdown of company cost and then final cost to the consumer. Everlane conducts business online only, so middlemen buying prices, which greatly increases final price point, are cut out. Additionally, they are very hands on with their factories. This is what really endears this company to me. They regularly visit their factories, put on their website which factories make what clothing, and even conduct documented factory tours. In a world where most companies factory hop and stay as far away as possible from production, this model of accountability encourages and delights me.

One of the bonuses of working closely with factories is that they really get to know how the work is done. This means they have done a lot of research and hand picked the very best factories for each product. After exploring their website extensively it is easy to see how important quality work is to their brand identity. This means that we, as consumers, get the best workmanship possible for the lowest price without majorly screwing anyone over in the process.

As far as design philosophy goes, Everlane has a simplicity and parred down aesthetic that almost everyone can get behind. While a fashionista may not find bold statement pieces here, the quality of their fabric and ease of design makes for great staples. I own a few things of theirs at this point (admittedly not as many as I would like), as I have known about them for a couple of years, and I love them all. So far, there hasn’t been a single thing I have purchased that disappointed me. For online shopping that’s truly amazing. Also, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a womenswear only line – they have a great selection of menswear too!

Here are a few pictures I’ve taken while in Everlane clothing <3