A rest day in Lake Akan, and reflections about our innate beauty from a Japanese Onsen
The weather has been beautiful and most cooperative, everyday while we toured Hokkaido thus far.
But yesterday it turned rainy and did not ease out for most of the day.
I suggested to Jules that we use this rainy weather pattern, as a signal that we need a rest day.
In the past, when on long trips, we tended to cherish each day and did not stop to simply allow a rest day on a regular basis.
We ended up feeling fatigued or even got sick, which was a real bummer while on a trip.
When traveling becomes a regular part of your life, and you are traveling for months every year, you must develop ways to cope with being on the road in the same way you do when you are home.
At home, we do not go skiing, or cycling, or hiking EVERY single day.
We have plenty of rest days in which we do not do many physical things, but just lay around and read, research thing on the Internet, paint, watch comedies or movies, write, cook and eat…. Etc.
But when you are in new places and on the road, curiosity and a desire for adventure takes priority over balance.
You want to explore what is around you, and you only lay down if you must… Which is not very wise.
So we used the rainy day as a rest day.
We ate a leisurely breakfast, went for a slow walk around Lake Akan, photographed the main street that was lined with hotels and gift shops, selling wood carvings, and Marimo Algae Balls.
Those Marimo Algae balls, are a native unique thing to Lake Akan.
They are as round as balls and they grow to large sizes, some as large as a basketball.
But they not easy to see, since they grow on the bottom of the lake, where it is dark and deep.
There is a tourist boat that takes tourists to an island, which has a conservation center where you can see these Algae balls floating in an aquarium.
We did not take that tourist boat, because many aquariums around town, in many gift shops, have those algae balls displayed and even sold to take home.
They come in all sizes, some as small as marbles, and you can take them home and grow them in your own aquarium.
Instead we went to see the recreation of the old Ainu village in Akan, which was very picturesque with all the building made from carved wood in very intricate details.
We bought some small wooden carvings to give as gifts to our neighbor kids in Colorado, who are picking up our mail for the past few months.
In the past, we used to just stop the mail for a few months when we traveled, until our return home, but many pieces of mail got lost or returned to sender as undeliverable.
The US Postal Service, will only hold your mail for two months, and we are often out of the country for three or four months…..So we switched to paying our neighbor kids for collecting our mail.
It is a good first time jobs for them, and it is an opportunity for them to practice responsibly, reliability and consistency… And so everyone benefits from it.
On top of paying them, we also bring back small gifts from the places we visited.
We spent the rest of the day resting and catching up on things.
Jules paid our bills online, and we returned some unanswered emails and downloaded photos.
I spent some extra time at the hot spring Onsen that evening, luxuriating in the open naked atmosphere, admiring the good cleaning habits of the Japanese women around me.
One elderly lady spent a long time massaging her head, her bony fingers kneading in and out of her thick hair, her eyes closed in concentration and relaxation….with an expression of self pleasuring on her serene face…
The way to use these hot springs Onsen, is that you put your clothes in the open baskets in the dressing area.
You get your own basket, and you place in it your kimono or your clothes, your towel and belongings.
Then you go into the showers area, which are equipped with low stools to sit on, in front of the low showers.
You must bring your own washcloth. (available from your hotel room)
You wash your body very well and very methodically BEFORE you enter the hot springs.
This way the hot mineral waters that are shared by everyone in the big hot pools, are kept clean and are used ONLY for soaking and relaxation.
After a long soak, the women usually condition their hair and rinse off, but many do not scrub with soap again, this way the healing benefits of the hot spring waters, stays on their skin and make it soft.
I absolutely LOVE this method of bathing.
I find it far superior to the shower-based society, in which people shower or bathe mostly to clean their bodies, but forget to sooth their souls.
Baths in many countries are taken instead of showers, but the person simply soaks in the same bath waters he cleaned himself with, which is not as great as this Japanese way, of first sitting on a low stool in front of a mirror and taking what amounts to a very good scrubby shower BEFORE you enter the hot spring for a relaxing soak to sooth the soul and to relax the body and nervous system.
I noticed that the women were taking their time, luxuriating in the long ritual of self cleaning and maintenance.
They were sitting on the low stools in front of the mirror, scrabbling between each toes, paying attention to every fold and crevice in the body…. They did it with such an unhurried manner that was so pleasing to me…
During soaking in the hot springs, they chatted about other Onsens they visited before, and described how beautiful they were or how wonderful the locations were…
It was a warm and friendly conversation, totally non committal in which women joined or left to cool off, without feeling rude or committed to the conversation.
They were all beautiful to me…. No matter how old, fat, wrinkly and regardless of the shape and ways they carried their bodies.
While they were totally naked and shameless, they looked so relaxed, beautiful, open, warm and friendly.
Their cheeks were red from the hot baths and their hair soft and glowing while wet and pulled backwards, exposing their beautiful glowing open faces…
Later, when they put on their clothing and made up their hairs, it felt like a strange transformation had taken place.
Women who looked infinitely beautiful when naked, suddenly looked ordinary.
To me, in our nakedness, we look beautiful.
It is NOT the kind of infinite beauty that comes from a perfect shape, perfect skin or perfect form.
It is the beauty of being who we are… And not who we want to present to the world…
What we think makes us beautiful, often times does not add at all…
And many times it detracts.
Those women who looked so wonderfully radiant and beautiful while naked…. So open and natural, somehow had changed when they put on their clothing, and suddenly they looked reserved, or rigid or even worn out and old….
There is so much beauty in our nakedness…. In being who we are without the “aid” of jewelry, makeup, fashion and style….
When totally naked and totally happy and relaxed, these women looked like girls.
The young girls looked like little angels.
The young women looked absolutely stunning…. Each one of them…
But with all their attire, they looked ordinary….
Suddenly I could tell that some had hard lives… They were bent from working in the rice fields….
I could tell by looking at some of the women’s demeanor and by their choice of clothing, what kind of life they have, their perceived limitations, their personalities, even their jobs, their lifestyles and the compromises they believe they should make….
It was all visible by the way they dressed up, presented themselves, made their hair, and walked out of the Onsen….
I preferred them all naked, open, free laughing and endlessly beautiful…