The healing hot springs of Shimo-Suwa

During these two days off, I have found it hard to meet people in Matsumoto.  The easy option would be to go into a bar. But if I go into a bar, I know I will find it very difficult to get out. It is not just the drink that makes the bars appealing; they are almost always very friendly and welcoming places where a rambling chunterer like me can find someone to talk to.

Anyway, for a new experience, I took a trip this afternoon to see the grand shrines at Shimo-Suwa. Meeting people in a small town such as Shimo-Suwa was a lot easier. Whereas in tourist-packed Matsumoto, the locals seem to expect foreigners not to be able to speak Japanese, in Shimo-Suwa it was quite the opposite. Everyone talked to me.

One silver-head told me about a 16th century monk who carved a rock into a Buddha; another silver-head told me about a female tank poet who was born in Shimo-Suwa. When I confessed to him I didn’t really understand tanka, he told me he didn’t either. He was just a volunteer guide looking after her old house.

The best place to meet people though was in the hot springs. The scalding waters of Tanga Onsen had barely settled, before a silver-head appeared next to me and started telling me about Takeda Shingen, a legendary warrior from the region who had healed his battle wounds in nearby hot springs. Contrary to common belief, it appears men are great at talking, as long as it is about dead people.

Soon 2 more silver-heads waded in and the conversation changed to comparing ailments. ‘I’ve had a heart bypass and the doctor told me I shouldn’t go in hot water’, said one, as he cheerfully stepped into the bubbling lava pool.

By this point, the 45 degree waters of the ‘coolest one’ were becoming intolerable. I got out, and after a short break, stupidly tried the hottest pool – 47 degrees. I got as far as getting both knees in, then twice as quickly got them both out. I then noticed all the men sat on shower stools had been gleefully watching my every move. Bath-time is real entertainment.

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