Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tatsuno is a small town west of Himeji. I went there on my last trip; rode a rented bicycle through the countryside. It was summer then, warm and easy weather for riding a bike. Can't do that in winter, not with the clothes I had, on a rental bike.
We went for a single reason: to go to the small factory that makes “somen” noodles. I don't particularly like somen, to be honest, but that has more to do with how we usually eat them than with the noodles themselves. They are very small diameter and made from wheat, similar in makeup to the larger udon noodles. In summer it's very popular to eat them cold, and I like them that way; but it is never enough for a meal, and I prefer that preparation in smaller amounts.
The factory was closed.
That was my fault; there was no English website, and I didn't ask for anyone to help me read the Japanese to see if the place was open. It was on a Friday, and while many places still recognized that day as part of the New Year holiday, the banks didn't, so I made an inaccurate assumption that the factory would be open for tours. It was disappointing. I really wanted to eat somen.
The main reason I wanted to go to Tatsuno had nothing to do with somen, or castles, or anything even remotely cultural. I wanted to go to the Super Bath (Super Sento in Japanese).
A Super Sento is like a regular public bath, only larger, with features of an onsen (which is natural spring water). The one in Tatsuno is run by a company called Akane (Ah-Kah-ne), which has several bath houses in the area.
In that particular bath there are many different pools, some inside, some outside. The water was bit tepid; there should always be at least one of the outside baths that is very, very hot. But it was decent, and also inexpensive.
When I finished hanging out in the different tubs, I was told to leave because I have a tattoo.
Now, my tattoo is pretty small, maybe three inches high by four inches wide. It isn't much, one color (actually two, but the red has faded so that it's hard to see), and is simply my wife's name with a little decoration. There are seriously sentimental reasons why I got it in the first place and also why I keep it.
Tattoos are not normally a problem in public baths, even in those that have signs that say “No Tattoos.” The rule is meant to keep out the Yakuza, who have some very serious body art. Most places are able to distinguish my little tattoo with a full blown arm sleeve or something of that sort.
Evidently, the Akane bath in Tatsuno doesn't care. Or else a customer complained. Either way: I was asked to leave.
I made no issue of things; going in I knew they didn't want people with tattoos. And while I personally feel it's a bit of a silly rule, and I believe that it is 2013, and even in rural Japan there are young Japanese with fashionable tattoos, and I also believe that a tattoo is much less offensive than the scars some old men carry around from various surgeries on their torsos, I was a guest in both the country and that bath. So I didn't put up a fuss. I asked if I could finish my shower, and when I did, I left.
Lunch was at a Family Restaurant. There are many brands of these restaurants in Japan, including Denny's. Note that Denny's in Japan tastes nothing like Denny's in the US. Our GPS gave us very few options for places to eat; Tatsuno is a small town, but not that small. But we didn't have much choice other than to drive around, which none of us wanted to do. Well, I was fine with it, but I was the only one. So we went to a place called Gusto.
There is little to recommend the place, other than that it has a salad bar. It is a tiny salad bar. The lettuce area of a typical US salad bar takes up more space. That might be equal part condemnation of US salad bars, and to be fair it was a really good try. There was some good stuff, including coleslaw and my favorite kind of Japanese dressing, though the bowl they gave me to put the salad in was pretty small. Maybe I had been in Japan too long, but I honestly felt a little embarrassed to go back a second time. My lunch also came with the curry bar, so I got that, also in a very small bowl.
My son's lunch was pretty pathetic, though. He said it tasted fine, but the steak was the size of the palm of my hand. His order of fries was quite large; the intent, I think, was for a family to share the order. For an American, it was just the right serving size for one.
Then we headed home, taking local roads because I wanted to. It was a slow day otherwise, with some shopping to round things out, followed by a dinner of sukiyaki, then bed.


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