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    A Delivery That Warms the Body and Soul


Office worker turned driver returns home to find a fulfilling new career bringing comfort to a grateful community

Upon arriving in Ōarai, in Ibaraki Prefecture, you are immediately struck by how integral water is to life in this quaint village. To the west lies gorgeous Lake Hinuma, one of the largest and most picturesque in Japan, to the east lies the Pacific Ocean, and to the northwest, just off the edge of town, flows the Naka River. It’s no surprise then that Toshiaki Kamogawa would eventually find himself in a water-related profession. However, the particulars of his job are unique, to say the least.

Thanks to a burgeoning tourism industry, the area has seen visitors sky-rocket to a whopping three million annually over the past five years. This spike, and the increased need for daily onsen water delivery, gave rise to new business opportunities, which is where Kamogawa-san and his truck come in.

Born and raised in Ōarai, Kamogawa-san had been toiling as an office worker in a neighboring city for decades. When he retired, he found himself with an urge to return to his hometown. This newfound yearning happened to coincide with a long-standing interest of his.

“I’ve always wanted to drive a heavy-duty truck, but my wife told me not to because she thought it was too dangerous. When I finally had the opportunity, I got my license,” says Kamogawa-san as he cracks a smile. That new skill opened the door to a new career in his hometown. “I deliver onsen water to local hot springs,” says Kamogawa-san proudly. For five years now, he has made onsen water deliveries with a royal blue 1990s Super Great he inherited from his predecessor.

Hot springs, or onsen in Japanese, are a vital part of the country’s ancient bathing culture—its first mention in literature dates back to the second half of the 1st century. Located directly on the Ring of Fire, naturally-occurring hot springs of volcanic origin are a frequent sight in Japan and are said to have profound therapeutic effects on the body. “We add onsen water to bath water as it warms the body differently than tap water,” Kamogawa-san explains. And after one dip in these mineral-heavy, steaming waters one quickly sees he’s right.

Though it doesn’t benefit from the same rich volcanic activity as neighboring regions, Ōarai is able to provide its residents and businesses with access to precious onsen water via a pump installed some 20 years ago.

“It takes about 30 minutes to fill the tanks, so we start at 8:30am, and depart with the first truck at 9am,” says Kamogawa-san, who is one of two drivers servicing the area and its eight onsen hotels. Making three to four trips per day, he drives to each destination with extreme care, conscious of the precious cargo he carries. Filling a large bath may take upwards of 10,000 liters of water, while smaller hotels require 5,000–6,000 liters.

The water arrives at its destination at room temperature and is then boiled by the hotel; onsens temperatures range from 25–60°C (77–140°F) and beyond. “The elderly are especially glad to have these hot springs, particularly in winter when temperatures in the area can get quite low,” comments Kamogawa, who is known to enjoy a dip from time to time.

By transporting such an esteemed liquid, Kamogawa-san and his big blue truck have become a recognizable part of life in Ōarai, something he has not failed to notice. “I’m starting to get used to the way people treat me. I’ve had folks from other prefectures come and say hello when they happen to be in town, and people also send me messages through the Internet.”

Yet he is quick to brush aside this newfound attention to focus on what is dear to him, “I’m just glad I’ve been able to work in Ōarai, and hope to continue to help the town, its people and the hot spring industry for as long as I’m able.”