[update] A movie version of "Thermae Romae" starring Hiroshi Abe, Aya Ueto, Masachika Ichimura and others will be released in April 2012. I'm not sure if you can see this movie outside of Japan.
Japan is getting more famous for its subculture than manufacturing products among younger generations recently. One of them is MANGA. The word "MANGA" stands for cartoons, but it's different from American cartoons as many of you already knows.
I bought a MANGA book worth mentioning in this blog last week. The title is "THERMAE ROMAE", staged in ancient Roman Empire under the emperor Hadrianus. Lucius, the main character of the MANGA is an architect of Roman baths, accidentally time warps to present Japan.
He doesn't know what happened to him, and recognizes the Japanese in 21st century as "flat faced slaves with very high level of bathing culture". He comes and goes between Roman Empire and present Japan several times, and makes success by building Japanese style bath houses in Roman Empire.
The vol.1 of the serial MANGA books came out in last Dec. and is to continue. It was awarded "Cartoon Grand Prize 2010" this month. Mari Yamazaki, creator of the MANGA has studied in Italy, and lives in Portugal now.
[Related post] Animated "THERMAE ROMAE" (Feb 26 2012)
Mar 24, 2010
A soaker and feet bathers. The hot springs water itself is almost transparent, looks gray after mixing with bottom sand. (photo: Mar. 2010)
Wulai（烏來） is a small town of Atayal or Tayal tribe in Taipei County, North Taiwan. It's famous for onsen as well. I made my fourth visit here with a friend of mine, and soaked ourselves in the naturally gushing hot springs on the banks of the Nanshih River the other day.
We found the place to soak at the left side of the bridge over the Nanshih River. You have to make your own soaking pond here, moving rocks to mix river water and the hot springs to make adequate temperature for soaking. Fortunately, a kind man gave his soaking space for us, so we didn't have to work hard to get a pond.
You can find readymade soaking ponds at the right side of the bridge.(photo: Mar. 2010)
The hot springs gushing from the bottom sand and very hot, more than 60°C in the sand at my visit. We had to keep stirring water around us to mix river water and hot springs. Swim suites are necessary. There are no changing rooms around there, but a nearby grocery store made us change clothe in their toilet with small money.
Primitive changing rooms are ready at the right side of the bridge.(photo: Mar. 2010)
If you go right side of the bridge, you'll find more organized (?) place for soaking with some concrete made ponds. There are four private changing rooms, and the ponds for washing and for soaking are separated.The river flows slower around here, and many people swim in the river for cooling down after soaking in the hot springs.
There are many hotels with hot springs on the both side of the river. (photo: Feb. 2009)
Of course there are hotels and resorts you can make a day visit. Don't forget to try bamboo tube rice（竹筒飯）, one of the aboriginal dishes.
Access is easy. There are frequent direct bus to Wulai from 青島西路 (Qingdao West Rd? location 25.044587,121.51858) , south side of the Taipei Railway Station, taking about one and half hours and the fare is $70 one way. Although many guidebooks recommend to go to Xindian（新店） with MTR (subway) first, then to take the bus to Wulai($40) from just behind of the tourist information center at the Xindian station to avoid traffic jam in central Taipei, this bus gets desperately crowded especially on weekends, and the road is winding. If you go with small kids and aged people, I recommend you to take the bus from central Taipei. Get off the bus at the last stop at Wulai in either case and just walk around. You will find the bridge I mentioned.
Souvenir shop looks very much like one in Japan. (photo: Feb. 2009)