Cool your boots, Japan.

Tired after a seemingly endless journey, the long-distance traveler normally resorts to some kind of body of water first in his/her attempt at winding down, chilling out a bit, and returning from zombie state to kinda normal state. Usually a shower, sometimes a bath – sometimes even a banya and its attendant cold pool!

But only in Japan can one hope to reap the mega-chillage effects of a ryokan, which mixes bathing with a fantastic culinary experience to have you back all recharged and fully energized in no time at all. Which is what happened to me recently at Izukogen Hanafubuki Ryokan on the Izu Peninsula (伊豆), not far from Mount Fuji, Japan. Cool our boots, man, we sure did.

In case anyone doesn’t know what a ryokan is, let me tell you that it is a traditional Japanese hotel, usually not too big, with straw mattresses on the floor, offering super-duper Japanese food plus sometimes hot springs to dip in.

If you’re not Japanese, however, you have to be careful. You’ll need to bone up on the Japanese culture first, as it’s easy to put the proverbial foot in it with some faux pas that will cause upset at best, an international scandal at worst :). Best of all is to visit a ryokan with Japanese friends or colleagues, then there’s no chance of unintended mix-ups/offense. Accompanied by locals, you’re safely under their wing, so can feel just like a Japanese: blissfully content to recuperate for a few days, feed the soul, and revitalize the spirit.

And it’s not just the food and waters that act as a tonic to the body and soul – there’s also all the cherry blossoms still a-blooming here, picturesque little cottages, cozy little paths and an overall abundance of fauna and flora. Most fine.

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Why are we here?

No, not because Izu is (claimed to be) the largest producer of wasabi in Japan :). It’s a bit obvious really: the peninsula happens to be cram-packed full of volcanism! I’d been wanting to get myself here for years, especially since it’s not that far from Tokyo, which I visit often on business.

So off we popped. Straight away: a problem. Which particular volcanism to choose to visit? Not easy as there’s so much of it. En route we turned to the Internet, fantasized, filtered, compared… and finally the choice was made: Omuro!

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The volcano erupted something like 4000 years ago, covering the surrounding land – and seabed – with a thick layer of lava. Over the four millennia since, ocean waves have been constantly crashing against the lava, with the result being today a superlatively super shoreline: nine kilometers of unusual rock (lava) formations – reminiscent of similar ones in the Kurils.

It’s best to head here late morning, have lunch on the way at a roadside restaurant, and then spend three or four hours in the afternoon gently strolling and soaking it all up with all the senses.

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izu-japan-12Volcanic stone columns (a la Rayleigh-Benard convection). On the physics of their origin – here

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izu-japan-23For once, the KL-Japaners liked the walk. But they clearly don’t work out :)

“Don’t eat here the aloe!” I shouted at them. Nope, too late… In short, aloe doesn’t taste nice. Not that you could guess from their reactions…

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The rest of the photos are here.

After our warm-up walk the plan was to get up the volcano itself, but, alas, it was overcast, had started raining, and we hadn’t brought waterproofs with us. (Yes, a bit of a silly oversight for a seasoned traveler like myself; ok, I’ll remember next time. Thing is, I love excursioning light – without a bag or anything. But I digress.) Even the funky funicular wasn’t in operation – also due to the weather. Oh well, Omuro will have to wait for our next visit…

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Then it was back to the office in Tokyo. There: partner conference, meetings, interviews. All as per usual: useful and interesting and worthwhile. Our Tokyo office, btw:

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Seventh floor – that's us. As you can see :)Seventh floor – that’s us. As you can see :)

Btw, half the building is empty (ninth floor and above). Want to open a rep office in Tokyo? Welcome!

Green bears, black horses, red cars, blue footie kits – all feature big here…

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I guess that strategically positioned tub is subtler than the usual 'Please do not touch the exhibits!' Infinitely more humaneI guess that strategically positioned tub is subtler than the usual ‘Please do not touch the exhibits!’ Infinitely more humane. Gotta love the Japanese

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The boss in work modeThe boss in work mode

Akihabara in work modeAkihabara in work mode

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Dispenser with assorted Japanese tasties. Want one of these in our HQ!Dispenser with assorted Japanese tasties. Want one of these in our HQ!

After work – work do/dinner!

The Unagi (eel) – my fave dish – here, at a restaurant not far from the hotel, was out of this world. And on the walls were these here pictures – of monster Unagi:

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As for a photo of the dish itself to complete this mini-Unagi theme… oops. My mind was on merriment and banter by then. Forgot all about snapping it!

Gahn-pie folks!

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