I am an ice cube in a drinking glass. Hey, what’s going on on me? Is that iced tea? No, it’s not brown.
Oh, that feeling is sparkling water! The glass I’m in is filled to the brim and I’m almost completely submerged in the water. I relax a bit.
Wow ! Countless little bubbles cling to me. Where do they come from? My whole being is covered with it. Then a man picks up the glass and spins it around. The bubbles break away from me and rise to the surface. I’m smooth again until a few minutes later and then it repeats itself.
This is what I felt when bathing in the hot spring waters of Lamune Onsen in Nagayu in Takeda Town, at the foot of the Kujyu Mountains in Oita, the prefecture with the hottest springs in Japan. The water here is carbonated, so after bathing for a few minutes, your body will be covered with foam-like bubbles. Run your hand over your skin and the bubbles come off and rise – you sparkle!
My first visit here was in 2005 when the spa first opened. I remember swimming in the outdoor facility holding a colorful umbrella while it was raining. I noticed on my second trip recently that the facilities have aged well.
The pavilion, which looks straight out of a fairy tale, was designed by architect Terunobu Fujimori, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.
He used the ancient Japanese technique of “yakisugi” (charred cedar), which seals and protects the wood from insects, rot, rain and fire, thus increasing its durability. Burnt cedar placed vertically on white plaster creates a monochrome striped pattern. The interior of the building is also artistic, with a small gallery and gift shop.
On site and online, you can buy ‘real’ bottled mineral water straight from Nagayu hot springs called Super Hard Mineral Water Magna 1800. The amount of magnesium in it is about 100 times that of commercially available mineral water, and for you scientists there, it has a hardness of around 900 milligrams per liter and an alkaline pH of 8.6.
For over a decade I have been using this water to cook rice. It makes the rice yellowish, but the rice becomes … well, how do I say “fukkura mocchiri” – chewy and chewy? I don’t gain anything by plugging this in, so trust me when I tell you your rice will turn out to be insanely delicious if you try it.
Add Lamune Onsen to your bucket of ice bucket list.
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This article by Lisa Vogt, a Washington-born photographer based in Tokyo, originally appeared in the September 5 issue of Asahi Weekly. It is part of the series “Lisa’s Wanderings Around Japan”, which portrays various places across the country through the point of view of the author, professor at Meiji University.