Wednesday, January 18, 2012


National Geographic: A Time to Run

Last July, I traveled to Japan for National Geographic. My assignment was to write a "cultural piece" about tsunamis in Japan--the world's most tsunami prone country. There were no firm rules about the piece, and my research and my questions led me to lots of interesting places, and into conversations with many different people.

Ultimately, I ended up writing a more personal piece than I had expected to. You can read "A Time to Run" here, or in the February issue of National Geographic, with the dog on the cover. In this essay, I talk about the childhood journals I kept in Japan. Each night, I'd write an entry under my mother's watchful eye, and do a drawing. It's strange now to see that many of these pictures included waves and the water--but then this is not so strange when you consider that we were often by the beach.

I'm heading for Japan tomorrow, but this will be a personal trip. And quite quick. It's an odd time to go to Japan--the New Year has started and we are still weeks away from any winter festivities and from the first cherry blossoms. But I'm looking forward to some quiet time and some conversations with friends and, of course, relaxing in a nice, big Japanese bath. There are a few things we just don't have in the States--a good onsen is one of them.

"No good onsen in the US"... not strictly true! There may not be a full Japanese onsen outside of Japan, but there are Korean spas (King Spa in Dallas & Chicago for one) that do have multiple full-sized onsen-like soaking tubs. In NYC it looks like Spa Castle is a Korean spa that would closely resemble a Japanese onsen/public bath (dividing into men and women, undressing, washing, soaking, etc) and there are probably others.

Spa Relaken in LA (Torrance) is a Japanese spa that has a room with a big soaking tub/hot tub too. It's in a Japanese hotel, Hotel Miyako, that has deep Japanese tubs in a special wet area in the bathrooms!

You should try the NYC Korean spas out next time you're longing for the onsen experience! :)
I can still remember soaking in a "rotemburo" at night under the canopy of a full flowering cherry tree. I've been to hot springs outside of Japan and the experience is simply not the same.

I wish you a peaceful and nourishing stay in Japan, where I hope to return in a year or so. Eat lots of delicious and warming winter dishes and enjoy the immersion. I look forward to reading your NG piece.
Ah, yes. I do love Spa Castle in Flushing. And I'm very excited that there are plans to open a similar bath on Madison Ave (please, please, please!!). I was just at Spa Castle over the holidays, and I'm sure will be back there in the winter. But it's not exactly the same! All that chlorine . . . not onsen water! But I take your meaning. I have heard about the Hotel Miyako tub but . . . that's not exactly an inexpensive treat. I would love to go some day, though.
I've never been to an onsen. I don't think there are many here in Australia, but I heard of one. I have read about them though, and I'm not sure how I would be in an onsen.

Just dropping by because I just read your short article in the Nat Geo Magazine, and it directed me to a website that led me here. And I just wanted to say how interesting it was.

I was drawn in by the picture of the journal, and particularly by the Japanese script. I used to study Japanese, so any Japanese script makes me curious. And then I read your wonderful article and the glimpse it gave on your life as a Japanese child, as well as the culture generally.

It's a shame you're not on wordpress, or I'd definitely follow you. I'm on wordpress too, you see. And I also enjoyed your post right after this one, about the football player.
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