It takes four years to be a certified shiatsu therapist in Japan–so you could only imagine how relaxing my massage was!
I must admit that my recent trip to Japan almost took the spaholic out of me and my sister Emma. With so much to see and do, we easily got carried away with the winter frenzy that enveloped the country.
From the cosmopolitan city of Tokyo to the frozen wonders of Hokkaido, excitement was in the air, such that our attention was divided between digging into an array of authentic Japanese cuisine or going to a spa.
In Tokyo we went to the celebrated Sukiyabashi Jiro in Roppongi Hills, operated by Jiro Ono’s son and heir apparent. Jiro Ono, 86, is a Japanese national treasure—the first sushi master to receive three Michelin stars.
The sushi counter had only eight seats. After giving us warm towels and tea, the staff asked if we have any dietary restrictions.
The menu detailed the 19-piece “Chef’s Recommended Special Course.”
And, just like the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” our journey began—foregoing the chopsticks, soy sauce and wasabi for the traditional style of eating sushi—with one’s fingers.
We had the chance to go to a spa when we headed up north to go snow skiing in Hokkaido, Sapporo.
Japan’s premier ski area, Niseko Village, is part of Niseko United nestled between Annupuri and Grand Hirafu around Mount Yotei. It has restaurants, bars, designer boutiques, art and cultural events, and spas.
The Greenleaf Hotel in the village offers ski-in/ski-out facilities, a private onsen and a quaint spa. After skiing during the day, we would get a shiatsu massage at the Greenleaf Spa, which had an interesting twist. Aside from the traditional technique of using bare hands, our therapist brought out two bunches of thin bamboo sticks tied like a broom stick, which she used to pat our back and the backside of our thighs and legs.
This technique is said to help improve circulation, and we felt refreshed after each session.
My therapist’s credentials were outstanding; she said it takes four years to be a certified shiatsu therapist, which she studied at Osaka University. You could only imagine how relaxing my massage was.
Onsen is the Japanese term for “hot spring,” the water coming from a 100-percent natural mineral spring that feeds into the Greenleaf Spa’s separate indoor and outdoor onsen for males and females.
The hotel’s rotenburo or outdoor hot spring is surrounded by large boulders and pine trees covered by soft, falling snow—an authentic way to experience onsen bathing as one soaks in the healing powers of the water’s mineral content.
Our last stop was to attend the sixth Sapporo Snow Festival. It was a long five-hour drive, but made interesting by our English-speaking driver’s anecdotes.
The Snow Festival featured snow sculptures of various shapes and sizes. We were delighted to see a snow version of the Manila Cathedral.
A trip to Sapporo would not be complete without going to the market for the famous hairy crabs, king crabs, huge scallops and fresh uni, among others.
We also had to drink the famous Sapporo beer. Hokkaido’s ramen is also popular, and they claim that the ramen craze started here. We tried Sapporo’s oldest ramen house which served only three kinds of ramen base, simple yet tasty.
Though the temperature below-zero, we managed to keep warm with great food, amazing sights, good company, and new spa experiences.