Nothing gets me going like cool geography. Well, food. And puns. And going to the onsen. So a weekend getaway that combines all of these into one Unzen-y package was almost too much for me to handle.
Unzen is a small resort-town about an hour drive away from Nagasaki City. The town lies close to an active volcano group (Mount Unzen) and this causes many natural hot springs. Fun fact: a collapse of part of the mountain in the 18th century is the worst volcanic incident in Japanese history. Another fun fact is that this was the site of Christian martyrdom in the 1600s. The hot waters were used to torture Christians to death in what is called the 'Unzen Jigoku' or 'Unzen Hells'. So now, of course, it is a hopping tourist destination. However, soaking in the hot springs is now exclusively for pleasure and not religious persecution (I think).
Cedric and I zipped over to Nagasaki on the ferry and rented a car. Whenever I rent a car I am always unnecessarily wary and way over prepared and buy any form of extra insurance they try and sell me. In Canada, I'm pretty sure it's easier to sign up for the armed forces than rent a car under the age of 25. Here it was almost TOO easy and I booked it online, showed up, and away we went. It's about an hour drive to Unzen along the water up and down windy roads. It was a beautiful sunny day and I had a hard time staying focused on driving instead of admiring the gorgeous view.
We stayed in a traditional Japanese Ryokan which is sort of a fancy rustic hotel (I know, oxymoron). It is rustic in that the guestrooms are tatami floors with futons but fancy because they usually offer some sort of onsen and traditional Japanese meals known as kaiseki. Our meal was served in a private room and consisted of 10ish courses of the most beautifully prepared food you ever did see. One feature of kaiseki is just the ridiculous number of dishes used. Seriously, I would not want to be a dishwasher after that meal. Every item has its own individual dish, ornately decorated and properly placed. The food is often locally sourced and extremely fresh. PLUS the real highlight of the meal is that you get to eat IN A ROBE! Actually a yukata. I think that all fancy meals would be best enjoyed in a robe. Scratch that, I think that all meals period are best enjoyed in a robe. You can also wear your yukata all over the hotel to the baths, lobby, and restaurant.
There are many walking trails built through the natural hot springs and we wandered around in the cold (it snowed!) and took about 1000 pictures. The constantly changing steam was incredibly mesmerising and every second it looked different. There was a pretty strong sulfur smell, but it was worth it for the incredible views. I would like to go back in the fall as I've heard the trees change to beautiful colours. I could only imagine how neat it would look with all the steam.
It was an amazing weekend trip and now that I know how easy it is to rent a car I look forward to exploring around Kyushu and Nagasaki even more.