Yesterday, my gracious hosts, Masako and Yukio, whisked me away to a lovely area in southern Chiba prefecture. Somewhat like BC, but with exquisite manners, and on a smaller scale. Narrow roads, small mountains, miniature cars and houses. Yet magnificent forests and seriously proportioned spiders with thick and sticky webs. It feels like one could encounter magical mythical creatures at any bend in the road or twist in the path.

School kids on a field trip explore the terraced rice fields in southern Chiba Prefecture. They cheerfully chatted with us and showed us all the critters they were finding in the wet grasses.

School kids on a field trip explore the terraced rice fields in southern Chiba Prefecture. They cheerfully chatted with us and showed us all the critters they were finding in the wet grasses.

Masako had indulged me (‘wild Canadian woman,’ she calls me) by booking us a night in a ‘rustic’ hotel at the oldest onsen (hot spring) in the prefecture. Rustic hardly begins to describe it. The heater in Masako’s and my room was broken and the replacement was a portable relic that generated more oil fumes than heat. We dispensed with that and went for a walk to wait our turn in the hot spring (singular, you will note; the other one was out of service.) After the walk Masako and I went into the spring. It’s outside, and undressing was hard because it was so cold, but the water was wonderful. I thought, if I am too cold to sleep in that refrigerator of a bedroom, I can come back out here and warm up. (A cheering but overly optimistic thought, as we later learned.)

Inside, late afternoon, we huddled around the ‘hotbox’ in our room – kotatsu – the square low table with some kind of monsterously powerful electric element built into the underside. The table is draped in heavy blankets, so you can sit at it and warm your legs and feet, while you have tea, then beer, and wait for supper. Which, when it is ready, proves to be worth the wait.

Yukio seems comfortable, but Masako and I are already bundling up as the mountain air cools.

Yukio seems comfortable, but Masako and I are already bundling up as the mountain air cools.

Dining room at rustic onsen in Chiba Prefecture. The food was fantastic.

Dining room at rustic onsen in Chiba Prefecture. The food was fantastic.

Masako and the hotbox saved the day, or rather the night. In our room after supper, it was cold enough to see our breath, and there was no heat coming from the dense slabs of cotton that pass for blankets (they call them futon, actually, and it feels a lot like being the middle of a futon sandwich, lying on the floor, wedged between these layers of impenetrable cotton cold). Masako, bless her clever soul, dragged our humble little beds to opposite edges of the kotatsu, shoved the first foot or so under and draped the big hotbox blankets over the beds. Thus we could lie in bed with our feet under the table, being roasted like little marshmallows. It worked very well, and got me through the night toasty and warm, even though by now both hot spring pools were closed due to malfunction. Despite the quirks, or perhaps because of them, I am fond of that oddball of a hotel up a twisty narrow mountain road.

Tomorrow Masako and I take the commuter train into Tokyo and catch the Shinkansen (bullet train) for various points west. We start with a few days in Yamaguchi prefecture, and after that I’ve sort of lost track. I am loving being back in Japan. How could I have forgotten how good the food is?? I’m also having fun remembering the smattering of Japanese I learned 2 years ago, and this time am keen to learn some of the written language as well. I am proud of my miniscule list of simple kanji that I can read and write, and Masako and Yukio are indulgent and patient teachers.