Day two in Shirahama dawned bright and early with a phone call from Ben, and the realisation that I’m increasingly keen to get home – I’m still having fun, but I’m also looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, seeing my family and friends, being able to read and understand when people talk, eating something other than Japanese cuisine (I love it, but I could murder a good vegetable lasagne or fajita right now).
Still, I was determined to realise the vision that had brought me to Shirahama in the first place, namely of spending a day alternating between soaking in an open air onsen (hot spring bath), swimming in the sea and lying in the sun on a beach of pure white sand. Well the sun wasn’t showing its face and it was markedly cooler than when I’d been schlepping around Kyoto and Tokyo sightseeing (sod’s law). Not seeing an onsen immediately apparent on the beach, I figured there was more beach around the coast a bit, where my onsen would be waiting for me.
I followed the tourist map out of town and tried my best to stick to the shoreline, but it was increasingly dominated by private property. I found myself outside an onsen, but it wasn’t on the beach like the one I was looking for. After 40 minutes of walking along a road that was not friendly to pedestrians, I found myself at Senjo-jiki, or Thousand Tatami Mats, an outcrop of stratified rocks that are said to resemble a pile of tatami mats. I realised that there was no more beach to be had in this direction, and reached the conclusion that my walk had been in vain, that my onsen was waiting back at the beach I had just left and hiding somehow. Leaving the car park i saw a Nissan Figaro, which cheered me up as it always does.
Back on the beach I scanned every shack and shelter to see if I’d missed the onsen bath somehow, but nothing jumped out at me, so instead I turned my attentions to the last remaining shred of my vision: mother of us all, the sea. It looked pretty inviting, and there were people in the water so I wasn’t going to look like one of those nuts who jump in the sea in January. Still, there was a distinct lack of women in bikinis on the beach, and I felt very self-conscious in mine (I know, you’d think I’d be ready for a nudist beach by now, but no). I took the plunge, and it was bracing without being freezing, so I had a bit of a swim before realising that swimming in the sea if pretty boring on your own.
Disheartened, I headed back to my minshuku and promptly fell asleep. On waking two hours later, I flipped through my guide book and realised two important things: the minshuku had its own little onsen, and one of the guide’s recommended restaurants was on my tourist map. After a hot shower and a short soak in the very small hot tub, I headed out into the evening to find my restaurant.
I knew I was onto a winner when I arrived and there was a queue of about 10 Japanese people outside. Yes it meant waiting half an hour, but it was a balmy evening and I was quite content. Once inside I explained what I wanted with great difficulty to the waitress, and received a big bowl of excellent noodles, topped with prawn and vegetable tempura. I returned to the minshuku and readied myself for Hiroshima.