Mementos: Japan Misasa Onsen town

Misasa, Pétanque tournament, with Mayor, circa 1993
Misasa, Pétanque tournament, with Mayor, circa 1993

“You can’t go home again” says Thomas Wolfe, and i’m cool with that as i don’t have a “home” however, there a few spots in the world that i always yearn to return to – one of which is Misasa Onsen, a small mountain town in Tottori-ken (prefecture) Japan(note: pop. approx 6500) which boasts hotsprings with exceptionally high levels of Radon/Radium (is this good for you? i dunno, not a chemist – note: radon is the gas-form).

They folklore says (as per the town’s name which translates to “Three Mornings”) that staying and bathing here for three days will cure you of all your ills. As Radium was discovered by French scientist Marie Curie, the town celebrates all things France with a statue, festival and park dedicated to the wise lady, and other Franco-accruements.

Misasa, Kawara rotenburo with Bob, circa 1993
Misasa, Kawara rotenburo with Bob, circa 1993

I first happened upon the town when invited to a Pétanque (a French version of bocce, lawn bowling, boules etc) in order to make the tourney truly “international” – i was rounded up with the other scattered foreigners in the area. I drove my little “K-truck” up over the mountain pass (warned not to do so but…) and upon arrival was ushered about town by busy supervisors.

First, we were treated to a wild meal of “death by tiny plates” with the mayor and town officials. I was starving after a long day at the mushroom where i toiled and just wanted a big feed rather than so many delicacies, but anyhow, the drinks flowed and flowed and flowed – beer to wine, to sake, to whiskey to cognac and all this led to karaoke (in Yuakata / summer kimonos and geta / wooden sandals), then late-night soak in the rotenburo (outdoor hot pool) in the river – not wise. The hangover the next day was epic / legendary in all the wrong ways, especially as we were feted and introduced, then easily trounced in the matches, then had to hang out all day at the sports field sun. Ugh.

Anyhow, undeterred, I also attended the next year’s tourney simply as a spectator and once again visited with the Mayor who well, might still be the mayor considering Japan’s exceptional life expectancy.

Overall i returned to the town several times just to sit in the outdoor rock tubs on the side of the river. The local Ryokan (trad hotels) all have hot spring baths inside but i am a modest man (monetarily) and immodest man (physically) so i kick it in the outdoor pools in sight of the passers-by, au natural style (this was particularly fun/ny when viewed from behind when i sported long blonde locks).

Notably, the town has other historical significance with ancient sites and treasures which are worthy of various significant designations, as well as a violin museum – i’ve never visited any other of these as i am well… simply there for the silky radioactive water.

Here is an assortment of artifacts to add photographic evidence to my tales. There’s also a podcast sharing the drunken story of Pétanque tourney (whilst appropriately a wee bit buzzed) in Austin, TX with another cohort.

Misasa, Born to be Wild karaoke, with Mike "Maddog", circa 1993
Misasa, Born to be Wild karaoke, with Mike “Maddog”, circa 1993
Misasa, Pétanque tournament, with Mayor, circa 1993
Misasa, Pétanque tournament, with Mayor, circa 1993
Misasa, Petaneque tournament, with Mayor, circa 1994
Misasa, Pétanque tournament, with Mayor, circa 1994
Misasa, Kawara rotenburo with Bob, circa 1993
Misasa, Kawara rotenburo with Bob, circa 1993