Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Colors of Koi

A weariness that only 36 hours of travel can bring had descended upon my body.  I was ready for only one thing--sleep!  However, my hosts had a different plan.  It was early afternoon and they knew that sleep was the last thing I should have at that moment if I was to become quickly acclimated to a time zone a mere ten hours earlier than what I had left. 

Instead of a rest on a tatami mat spread on a wood floor, I was instead given the back seat in a tiny van headed for yet another train station.  Arriving at the train platform standing high above the rice paddies, we boarded a high speed train for the mountains towering above Kanagawa, Japan.  Speeding along the train rocked so severely that sleep again was impossible.  After all, if I stayed awake I might just glimpse Mt. Fuji in the distance.

An hour later we were whisked off the train in the gathering dusk to climb aboard yet another small van.  The van this time took us not through conjested city streets, but along curving roads high into the mountains.  The goal of this afternoon of travel was to arrive at a place of peace, calm, gentleness and relaxation -- the Hakone hot springs spa in the heart of Japan. 

Stepping from the van, all the weariness of travel slowly began to disappear.  Koi lazily swam through the crystal clear pools lining the pathway to the hot springs-- their stark white, shimmering silver and gold, and bold orange colors vibrant against the backdrop of black rock and the dark green foliage.  These fish provided the perfect example for experiencing the hot springs--slowly and with deliberate calm. 

From hot soaking pools to plunges in cold water to letting the warm waters of a hot spring waterfall cascade over the body; to sitting with eyes closed soaking up the warm steam in the sauna to drifting lazily across a crytal clear pool on an air matress; to concluding green tea served in a koi-pool surrounded tea house, my first evening in Japan was pure magic. 

I was ready to stay at Hakone for the entire month of our visit, yet, I knew there were other treasures to behold and experiences to be had in Japan. 

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