We arrived too early to check in, and didn’t think to ask whether we could use the onsen while we waited, so we set off to explore the neighbourhood. It was a neighbourhood not unlike those of many other small Japanese cities, with tidy houses and narrow streets. We came upon a decorative pedestrian bridge over a small river, and stopped to watch what was going on below.
We stood there for ages, just watching the fish swim against the current, which was surprisingly strong. It was the most mindful I’d been in a very long time. I breathed in deep gulps of clean, cool air, relishing the sensation of breathing air devoid of pollution.
After a while, we moved down to the small street adjacent to the river. Interspersed between those quintessential Japanese houses were small neighbourhood businesses closed for the new year break. We headed down to a park, the kind of place local residents would head to for hanami when the sakura were out. On this cool winter’s day, however, the trees were bare and we were alone.
I sat on a rocking horse and it immediately dipped, nose first, to the ground. I may have been the heaviest load it’s had to bear. Nevertheless, I didn’t give up, and forced a semblance of rocking to and fro, chatting away about nothing in particular.
Time for the swings. How many years had it been? At least this one appeared to fit me. As he pushed me I gained momentum, getting higher and higher until my stomach started to lurch. Much like experiencing a roller coaster as an adult, I was aware that what was fun as a kid was now infused with an element of fear. I shrieked, then giggled, as the swing slowed down.
As I got out of the swing, I looked up and saw a man perched on a fence at the end of the park, eating a sandwich. He must have entered the park after we did. I wondered what he must have thought of us, if he’d even noticed us, these two silly foreigners.
It was time to check in, and once our luggage was installed in the room, I headed to the onsen. Sitting by myself in an outdoor onsen, I realised it was the best day I’d had in ages. It’s the simple things that I miss in my daily life in Hong Kong: clean air, stillness, mindfulness.