Day 5: Strawberries and Bamboo
Friday, March 21st, 2008
For the weekend, Yasuko's father, Masao, had planned a trip to an onsen (hot springs), located less than two hours southwest of Nagoya. It was a unique opportunity to get the family together for a relaxing weekend of fun, great food, spa, massages and some sightseeing.
First, we drove to a small restaurant near lake Hamana, one of Masao's favorite places to enjoy unagi. Unagi is the Japanese word for freshwater eel, and it is served as part of unadon, a dish with broiled eel served on a bed of rice. Lake Hamana in Hamamatsu city, Shizuoka prefecture is considered to be the home of the highest quality unagi; as a result, the lake is surrounded by many small restaurants specializing in various unagi dishes.
By the time we finished eating, outside it had started to rain. After a couple of pictures taken just outside of the restaurant, we started driving north towards Yuya Onsen, our destination. On our way there the scenery was so incredibly rich of colors that I stopped a few times to take some more pictures.
In Japan it is quite popular in the spring to go to strawberry picking. After paying an entrance fee, they give you a small cup with condensed milk inside, and you can roam inside the greenhouse and pick as many strawberries as you can eat. 
It's a fun thing to do, especially for children, but, as I soon discovered, even Japanese adults seem to turn into children again in a place like that. And the strawberries were amazingly sweet, especially when dipped in the condensed milk.
The visit at the strawberry farm was a really good idea. It helped everybody to wind down, and set the tone of the weekend. After we had stuffed ourselves with plenty of strawberries, we hopped back in the cars and resumed our drive to the hotel.
As we kept driving north into the mountains, the landscape was gorgeous, especially thanks to the low clouds and the rain. Beautiful cedar trees, fantastic bamboo forests, flowering cherry trees, beautiful houses, rows of tea plants. Needless to say, we stopped a few times to enjoy the view and take a few pictures.
Finally we reached the hotel 湯谷観光ホテル泉山閣 in Yuya Onsen. The room was huge, with a nice balcony to sit down and enjoy the spectacular view of the woods and the river. 
After we settled down, before dinner, we went to this first floor of the hotel, where are located the private baths, which you can rent to take a hot spring bath in a big tub placed on an open balcony overlooking the river and the woods.
After the novel (to me) experience of getting naked outdoors and dipping ourselves into a hot bath while listening to the sound of the river flowing and the trees waving in the wind, we got ready and met the rest of the family in a private room at the hotel to enjoy a nice meal all together.
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