By LISA VOGT/ Special to Asahi Weekly
September 21, 2021 at 07:00 JST
I’m an ice cube in a drinking glass. Hey, what’s this pouring over me? Is it iced tea? No, it’s not brown.
Oh, this sensation--it’s sparkling water! The glass I’m in is filled to the brim, and I’m almost entirely immersed in water. I relax for a bit.
Whoa! Countless tiny bubbles are attaching themselves to me. Where do they come from? My whole being is covered with them. Then, a man picks up the glass and swivels it. The bubbles detach from me and rise to the surface. I’m smooth again until a few minutes later, then it repeats.
This was how I felt while soaking in the warm spring waters of Lamune Onsen at Nagayu in the city of Takeda, at the foot of the Kujyu mountains in Oita, the prefecture with the most hot springs in Japan. The water here is carbonated, so after bathing for a few minutes, your body will be covered with foam-like bubbles. Swipe your hand across your skin and the bubbles detach and rise--you’re fizzing!
My first visit here was back in 2005, when the spa first opened. I remember bathing in the open-air facility while holding a colorful umbrella as it was raining. I noted during my second trip recently that the facilities have aged well.
The pavilion, which looks like it came straight out of a fairy tale, was designed by architect Terunobu Fujimori, a professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo.
He used the ancient Japanese technique of "yakisugi" (charred cedar), which seals and protects the wood against insects, rot, rain and fire, thus increasing its durability. Burnt cedar placed vertically on white plaster creates a monochrome stripe pattern. Inside the building is artsy as well, with a small gallery and gift shop.
On the premises and online, you can buy “real” mineral water bottled directly from Nagayu hot springs called Super Hard Mineral Water Magna 1800. The amount of magnesium it contains is about 100 times that of commercially available mineral water, and for you scientists out there, it has a hardness of about 900 milligrams per liter and an alkaline pH of 8.6.
For more than a decade, I have used this water to cook rice. It makes the rice turn a shade yellowish, but the rice gets ... gee, how can I say "fukkura mocchiri"--fluffy and chewy? I gain nothing by plugging this, so believe me when I tell you that your rice will become awesomely delicious if you try it.
Do add Lamune Onsen to your ice-cube bucket list.
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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born and Tokyo-based photographer, originally appeared in the Sept. 5 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series "Lisa’s Wanderings Around Japan," which depicts various places across the country through the perspective of the author, a professor at Meiji University.
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