Sunday, September 7, 2014

Ryokan + Indigo

We stayed at a ryokan in Ohara, which is outside of Kyoto.  A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn.  Our ryokan also had an onsen, which is basically a hot springs.  One of the best parts of a ryokan is the fancy, multi-coursed meal they serve you right in your room.  It was quite an experience--though not a cheap one!

Our ryokan was vibing something out of The Shining, if only because there were no other guests there but us. Which meant that we had the place basically to ourselves. Oh, and there was a taxidermied bear holding a mug of coins in the lobby. I'm not sure how I feel about this.

I also wasn't sure how I felt about wearing the robes they gave you (me = skeeved about wearing things that aren't mine... and tags are just the least of it), but I suffered through my skeev to shuffle to the onsen in my robe for a dip before dinner.

I didn't take any photos of the onsen because it was, you know, wet. There were three choices of hot springs--and two of them rotated the hours to be women-only or men-only. (Since we were the only ones there, the hours rotated to be Jodi-only or Byron-only.) There was a wooden bath that's basically like a sauna, then there was a rock bath, which was in this basement that was guarded by a feisty cicada (I gave up at first, but then the noisy bug took a rest on the window and I slipped by), and then--our favorite--the open air bath, wherein you dipped among trees that were hundreds of years old. The open-air baths were open to men and women concurrently, but they were separated by a wooden wall. So B and I could talk to each other through the wall when we went for our bath after dinner.  

Of course, there's a protocol to bathing in an onsen. You take a small towel with you to cover yourself when you are getting in and out of the bath, should you feel shy because--oh yeah, you're naked!  I was so glad we were on our own there because this gal is still a little Victorian about being naked around other human beings. (Thankfully, I got to experience an onsen all by myself.) You wash your body and hair first, with a hand-held shower head, before you get into the bath. There is a place to store your robe and room key. You wear your indoor sandals from your room until you get to the outdoor path to the onsen, then you switch to some wooden sandals for outside. You leave these wooden sandals outside the door to the onsen and retrieve them on your way back to your room. Our ryokan was in need of an update, but the onsen experience there was top-notch and made me forgive them for having a stuffed baby bear in the lobby.

They served us a bananas 9-course (was it 9?  Or 10?) meal in our rooms. I did not wear my robe for this because strange robe coupled with food only added to my skeev. But here you can see my husband (!) helping himself to a bottle of sake that is out of frame.

Here is a course of ayu, or sweetfish, which is traditionally caught by cormorants. (You can watch a brief video on these "fish-seeking missiles" here, though this is in China.)

This is what our room looked like. The floor is tatami mats. After dinner, they moved aside our table and made up our bed on the floor.

The other reason we came to Ohara was to visit a small spinning, dyeing, and weaving workshop.

I had contacted them in advance to arrange a weaving and dyeing course for B and me. But when we got there, it seemed better to just focus on the dyeing, so we did.

It is beautiful country there, and the weather was great.

It's basically the owner, his wife, and another young woman involved with the place, from what I could tell.

These yarns are all dyed with vegetal dyes.

The owner showed us his indigo fields and told us how Japanese indigo is different from Amerian indigo, etc.

Blue hands are the sign of an indigo lifer.

Vats of indigo.  He explained the fermentation process (sometimes they use sake!), and then advised us which vats to use depending on the depth of blue we wanted.

The owner spoke English, but he was a bit wary of us at first. Once we started asking questions and he saw our passion, so to speak, he seemed to dig us alright and we even got a few laughs out of him.  Here he is working with B.

(Side note on the skeev tip:  We had to wear wellies while working with the indigo and, of course, I showed up without socks--I mean, it was HOT there!--and had to put mybare feet right in these stinky old wellies, used by I-don't-know-how-many-people before.  I swear, I could smell years of foot grime and sweat cooking out of the top of those insulated boots and, barf, that was it--I took the damn things off. And I still could smell my feet and the years of other people's foot grime they'd acquired.  Barf.  We stopped at a cafe on the way back to the bus stop and I took the wet-nap they give you at the table into the bathroom and cleaned my dogs up good.  How has athlete's foot not overtaken the island, what with all of the shoe sharing in Japan???)

I'll leave you (get it--those are indigo leaves drying!) with this shot of B's newly dyed shirt hanging to dry and another look at the magical location.