Thursday we woke up and were hoping for a day without rain. The weather teased us a little in the morning with a few dry minutes, but unfortunately it wasn't going to happen. Luckily, rain makes for a spectacular waterfall, but more about that later.
Breakfast Thursday started with lots of tasty pan (bread) from the crazy department store. We had green melon rolls, red bean matcha rolls, chocolate orange sticky buns, and more. We also got to sample Mister Donut. What is so special about a chain that has vanished from the US? Of course, it is a mystical, magical creation called - pondering. Pondering is a perfectly round glazed donut made nearly entirely from rice flour, resulting in a texture somewhere in between chewy bread and mochi. Truly, a little ring of heaven.
Nagoya is famous, among other things, as the headquarters for Toyota. Toyota gives back to the community with an automobile museum encompassing wheeled transportation history from the first gasoline powered tricycle, to the plug-in Prius. Along the way we were treated to several famous autos from a Rolls-Royce silver ghost, to a Dusenberg, and even a gull-wing Mercedes.
After the museum, we started the Lexus driving tour. It sounds hokey, but our friends recently bought a Lexus and had a magazine highlighting a driving tour and attractions in the Shizuoaka area near Mt. Fuji (Fuji san). The first attraction was a walk-through ryugashi-do, a cave full of beautiful stalagmites, stalactites, flowstones, and rim pools. About 3/4 of the way through the cave we heard Taka exclaim up ahead. After turning the corner we happened upon a huge super-loud waterfall. It was quite a beautiful sight.
After the cave, we headed to our hotel for the evening, which is right on the Pacific ocean. After going though a beautiful automatic wood door, the hotel had a cute entranceway with beautiful purple orchids. We checked in, and made our way to the 6th floor. Taka and Jon, true friends, gave us the ocean view room since only one was available. Weary from traveling all day, our hearts sank, and our noses recoiled at the smoke that filled the hallway leading to our non-smoking rooms. Luckily, the rooms smelled fresh, and throughout our stay we had less and less interaction with smoking. On this dark rainy night the view from the room hardly mattered.
We found out later that the only ocean-view room available was a western-style room. Turns out that hardly anyone must use the room because the carpet was filthy, and the furniture worn. In the morning, we looked into the room next door which was neatly outfitted in beautiful dark wood and soft tatami mats - next time we will skip the rodeo room.
The hotel continued to win us over with dinner. When we checked with the hostess at the restaurant, there were *no* vegetarian options. They said the S-word and we decided to pass. Luckily Taka found a cute little Italian place that was only about 10 minutes drive. The Italian place was cute, with a slightly Tuscan decor, complete with a vintage vespa that looked like it was still getting some happy time on the road. Dinner consisted of two pretty darn good pizzas and some tasty mushroom cream sauce house made pasta. After dinner, everyone was full and ready for a bath.
Onsen is the Japanese word for a hot-spring bath. According to lonely planet, Japan boasts more hot springs than any other country with more than 3000. The baths are generally split into male and female, and follow an alternating schedule so that everyone can see the different pools and views. We got a quick etiquette lesson from Jon and Taka donned our yukata (hotel robes) and headed down to the onsen. All along the walls of the onsen are stations outfitted with shower handles and faucets with shampoo, conditioner and body wash. In order to keep the hot spring clean it is customary to bathe before entering the spring. The water was fairly hot (think big minerally hot tub) and quite relaxing. After spending some time in the warm tubs, we took a shivery dip in the cold, and returned to the warm. All-in-all an interesting new ritual.