3 AM: Landing in Manila for a layover.
5 AM: Stalking around the Manila airport trying to make my internet work, to no avail.
7 AM: Boarding the plane for Taipei.
9 AM: Plane.
11 AM: Plane. At least there is an interesting Filipino airplane meal – some kind of beef stew flavored (I think) with star anise and cinnamon, with a little pool of scrambled egg in it, over rice.
1 PM: Dear lord. Plane.
3 PM: Off the plane in Osaka at last! I feel a bit delirious from the long night of travel. I make my way into the Kanku Onsen Garden Palace Hotel, into a tiny and impeccably efficient room, where I promptly flop face-first into the bed.
5 PM: I manage to tear myself away from the lovely firm mattress long enough to enjoy the hotel’s chief attraction: the onsen, or hot springs-style public bathhouse on the first floor. While the rooms are spare, the onsen is gloriously appointed, and tonight I am its only occupant. I don slippers and a yukata, a casual lounging kimono, then pad into the stone chambers where the only sound is the quiet rush of water.
As with most things in Japan, there’s a lot of etiquette and ritual involved, but since I’m alone I wing it with the help of the very detailed instruction sheet. I shed my clothes and wash myself, then enter the sunken pool of hot water. The water is level with the floor, so my body displaces a little wave that runs into a drain in the middle of the floor. I bask in the hot water and admire the black stone floors, the deep green stones set in the walls, the careful arrangements of bamboo. I even sing a little, which I’m certain I’m not supposed to do, but I’m alone and the acoustics are amazing – it’s shower singing on steroids.
After I climb out of the pool, I wander around naked awhile. I explore a smaller, even hotter pool, where large windows let in fresh cool air from a little secluded garden. There’s also a traditional wooden sauna room, where I feel like a dumpling in a bamboo steamer.
No pictures allowed (unsurprising, given the nudity) so you’ll just have to visit Japan’s lovely bathhouses for yourself!
7 PM: Dinner in the hotel restaurant. The menu consists mostly of set menus, at different prices depending on how large and elaborate the meal. I choose one of the smallest sets, which nevertheless seems elaborate to me. Since many of the dishes change depending on the season and aren’t listed by name on the menu, each bite is a glorious little adventure. “Appetizers,” I discover, consist of one bite apiece: some kind of mixed salad of pine nuts, greens, and shimeji mushroom; a cooked shrimp atop a cooked mussel with a shiso leaf; and a tiny decorative rice dumpling stuffed with what I think is a sweetened umeshiso paste.
After that I eat my sashimi – even the ika (squid) and ebi (raw shrimp) which are usually not my favorite – with tsukemono, traditional pickles. I drink my miso soup and spoon up the creamy chawan mushi (egg custard) with mixed seafood and lemon zest, both of which also have shimeji mushrooms. Shimeji must be in season. Finally, I crunch through some tempura – which includes a single fried bean! – and savor a little dish of braised beef with burdock and konnyaku (a type of firm, rubbery jelly made from yams). They bring me three slices of fruit and a square inch of cake (literally!) to round out the lovely meal. I feel extremely elegant.
9 PM: Any lingering elegance from dinner is gone. I feel like a zombie. Time for sleep!