Kotohira to Dogo Onsen – Day 6 Recap
We took off at 9 am today, which felt like noon considering our earlier schedule before this morning. I noticed that everyone was a little more energetic today after catching up on a little sleep.
Our first stop was the Ritsurin garden, which is the second of the two stroll gardens we see on this trip and one of the three top stroll gardens in Japan. This is great because we get to try to convince Mimi to do a third trip to Japan so we can see the third stroll garden!
Like the other stroll garden we saw, Koraku-en, this one was also meant to entertain and show off wealth. The vegetation and land marks change throughout the garden and are meant to remind viewers of other places.
We meandered through paths and made our way to the Kikugetsu-tei teahouse where we were served a small sweet treat that consisted of some sort of dough outside with chestnut and bean paste inside. The idea is to eat this before drinking the tea, because the tea is bitter, and the sweetness of the treat will prepare you for the tea. Traditionally, you are supposed to drink the tea in three sips and slurp the last one. I was surprised I was able to do this! It’s actually more like three large gulps. The tea is frothy, and when it’s finished you are supposed to look at the design left in the bottom of the cup to find some sort of meaning. We had a lion, a heart, dragon, and some just saw foam. Our tea experience was not a traditional tea ceremony, but more of a party type atmosphere where you drink some tea and observe the garden from this unique viewpoint in the structure.
After our lovely garden stroll, we traveled to Kotohira for an udon noodle lunch and then a hike up the 1,000 (give or take a few hundred) steps to the Kompira shrine. It happened to be one of the hottest days on the trip, but for those of us who made it to the top, it was worth it once we saw the view.
By now we were sweaty and pretty exhausted, and it was perfect timing for the hot spring hotel in Dogo Onsen. Our hotel, the Chaharu, had a natural spring hot bath on site but was also within walking distance to other springs in the town. Most of us were dressed in our yukata for the evening. This entire town revolves around the baths, and you can see people walking through the town in their traditional Japanese robes, called yukata, to stroll and head from bath to bath.
Our dinner was a gourmet buffet. I noticed that everyone pounced on the salad section. We have been loving the Japanese cuisine, but it was nice to have salad for dinner rather than breakfast tonight.
After dinner we were free to experience the baths or relax. I even managed to get scolded, twice, for not understanding the bath house rules. Oops! Sandals are not to be worn anywhere. Taking a bath is actually a pretty serious activity, at least the ritual of it is. Before entering the water you are supposed to be as clean as possible. Before you get in the tub, you are given some soap and a towel and then scrub down hard. Once you’re as clean as you can get and completely rinsed, then you can enter the water and soak to your heart’s content. Our hotel bath even had roses floating in one of the barrel baths. A few of us had a great time pretending to be Japanese princesses.