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Posts Tagged ‘Travel’

Japanese Onsen

January 11th, 2010 No comments

This will be a non-sake post; rather, a cultural tidbit for those of you lucky enough to go to Japan and experience this part of ancient and modern Japanese culture firsthand.

I have had the pleasure to accompany friends to an onsen. An onsen is a public bath that is sometimes a product of a naturally occurring hot-spring.

Unfortunately, this post won’t include pictures for obvious reasons, but I will describe the G-rated version.

For many people living in Japan, a typical retreat is to head off to a local onsen for a much needed wash, scrub, and dip into very warm water before retiring for the night. It is after one crosses the threshold into the bath that they allow the worries and troubles from work, home, and life to fade away. Hot steam envelopes the body as rules require you to bathe and cleanse the body with soap and water before entering the tubs or pools. Old-style methods of washing in Japan require one to be seated on a stool, use a low-profile bucket and the occasional shower-wand (the kind with the hose attached). Most modern onsens have “stations” where people park themselves to clean. Each station has its own supply of soap, shampoo, and conditioner to be used. After cleansing, the now clean body can be permitted to enter the hot tubs of water for relaxation.

The tubs range in size from small swimming pools to large jacuzzies.  And at their deepest, a full grown adult could sit and their head would still be above water. The hot pools can either be situated outside or inside and they can be constructed out of natural materials or look like modern swimming pools. The indoor versions can sometimes be rather steamy – an almost sweatlodge. The outdoor variety are really special during the wintery months when it’s snowing. During my last trip to Japan I sat in an outdoor pool, alone, in the darkness of night with snow drifting down upon my upper torso. It was a special night for being just in a hot tube in the nude.

Most people who use an onsen are used to the practice and have no problem bathing in a semi-public space surrounded by nude members of the same gender.  Others, maybe not so much. To compare, bathing at an onsen is similar to using a shower facility at a local gym or swimming pool.

Almost all onsens have a fee to enter and use the facilities. These costs go to maintaining the facility and ensuring sanitary conditions for all patrons. Before entering the bathing stations, lockers are provided to store clothes and other articles.  Some, onsens will provide a wash towel free of charge, others will ask you pay a modest fee for a small towel you can keep after your visit as a souvenir (I think you can call it that).

After bathing, soaking, and redressing, some onsens have a room with tatami mats to allow patrons to relax and recover after spending time in the hot pool. Some people will actually take short naps here (it was hard not too when I last went).

One final note (and I suppose sake related), some onsens permit alcohol in the actual pool/tub areas. The last one I traveled to in Hakone did not. You could, however, purchase and enjoy a can of beer afterward, but no alcohol was permitted in the tubs themselves. A word of warning, however… because of the hot water, it is easy to get dizzy from sitting and “relaxing” too long. Drinking alcohol will only exacerbate the symptoms. So, if you do venture into a hot bath and decide to enjoy the onsen with sake, do so with caution.

To sum up, I thoroughly enjoyed my experience becoming clean and relaxing in the cold air coupled with the hot water of the tub. I will definitely return to another onsen upon my next return to Japan in the future. I only wish something similar existed in Western culture. A shower or bath at home just does not cut it.

Categories: places Tags: , , , , ,

Blogging from Japan

January 9th, 2010 No comments
Yokoso from Japan! As a loyal friend to Los Angeles Sake, the sake industry, and the culture of nihonshu I have graciously accepted the invitation to write about my experiences here in Japan on my three week holiday as they relate to sake. At the time of this writing it is currently the halfway point of my travels and we’ve already visited several breweries, both large and small. From these visits we’ve had the pleasure and privilage to enter into the workplaces and halls of sake production, tradition, and culture. Accompanying me has been my trusty camera with which I have attempted to document the production methods and intricacies of the culture to share with you here. If you are so interested, additional pictures of my trip can be found on my flickr photostream (link at bottom of this post).
But to begin, I should probably write a little about who I am and my experience and exposure to sake.
In February of this past year I had the honor of being selected as one of the six initial participants to the Mukune International Sake Brewing Internship. Yasutaka Daimon, the toji (master brewer) and owner of Mukune Tei, opened his worplace for us to experience the process of producing premium sake firsthand. For an entire week we toiled and labored from morning till sunset assisting the staff of the brewery in every facet of production. Our experiences included washing and soaking rice, sprinkling and handeling the koji mould spores, and pressing batches of sake for eventual pasteurization and bottling. From around the globe participants came to share in this experience and take away a better appreciation for the production of sake and the people behind it.
In addition to the internship experience I have been an avid drinker of sake for several years making time for local events and public gatherings as they relate to sake and the culture of Japan. Despite my passion for sake it is not my career. I am currently an aerospace engineer working on designs of liquid propellant rocket engines that will go into the space shuttle replacement called Ares. It sounds glamerous, but in reality, it’s still engineering and if you didn’t like math and science in school, you won’t like this job. At present I am also a graduate student in engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). With an incredibly full schedule I make time for sake and ensure it is shared with as many people who are interested as possible.
I will be blogging for Los Angeles Sake over the next week or so and share as much as I can as it relates to the inner workings of a very old tradition and industry of Japan. If you have a question, please post a comment and I will be answer it as quickly as I can (Japan is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles). If you have a more personal question or request, an email is provided below.
I hope you can share in the excitement and knowledge of nihonshu as I travel Japan!
– Tyler LeBrun
tyler@tylerlebrun.com

Yokoso from Japan!

As a loyal friend to Los Angeles Sake, the sake industry, and the culture of nihonshu I have graciously accepted the invitation to write about my experiences here in Japan on my three week holiday as they relate to sake. At the time of this writing it is currently the halfway point of my travels and we’ve already visited several breweries, both large and small. From these visits we’ve had the pleasure and privilage to enter into the workplaces and halls of sake production, tradition, and culture. Accompanying me has been my trusty camera with which I have attempted to document the production methods and intricacies of the culture to share with you here. If you are so interested, additional pictures of my trip can be found on my flickr photostream (link at bottom of this post).

But to begin, I should probably write a little about who I am and my experience and exposure to sake.

In February of this past year I had the honor of being selected as one of the six initial participants to the Mukune International Sake Brewing Internship. Yasutaka Daimon, the Toji (master brewer) and owner of Mukune Tei, opened his worplace for us to experience the process of producing premium sake firsthand. For an entire week we toiled and labored from morning till sunset assisting the staff of the brewery in every facet of production. Our experiences included washing and soaking rice, sprinkling and handeling the koji mould spores, and pressing batches of sake for eventual pasteurization and bottling. From around the globe participants came to share in this experience and take away a better appreciation for the production of sake and the people behind it.

In addition to the internship experience I have been an avid drinker of sake for several years making time for local events and public gatherings as they relate to sake and the culture of Japan. Despite my passion for sake it is not my career. I am currently an aerospace engineer working on designs of liquid propellant rocket engines that will go into the space shuttle replacement called Ares. It sounds glamerous, but in reality, it’s still engineering and if you didn’t like math and science in school, you won’t like this job. At present I am also a graduate student in engineering at the University of Southern California (USC). With an incredibly full schedule I make time for sake and ensure it is shared with as many people who are interested as possible.

I will be blogging for Los Angeles Sake over the next week or so and share as much as I can as it relates to the inner workings of a very old tradition and industry of Japan. If you have a question, please post a comment and I will answer it as quickly as I can (Japan is 17 hours ahead of Los Angeles). If you have a more personal question or request, an email is provided below.

I hope you can share in the excitement and knowledge of nihonshu as I travel Japan!

– Tyler LeBrun

tyler [at] tylerlebrun {dot} com

flickr photostream