Miyako, Morioka, Tono, Bono

Catch up time. I’ve been rather busy and unable to write, so I’ll just give some run down of recent events.

August 20: I took the day off work to wait for my modem that was actually delivered the previous day. I tried going to the post office to get it. Arrived one hour before the post office opened. I figured everything else starts so early here, so why not the post office? Went back home then back to the post office where I was turned away and told to call a number to have the package delivered.

I decided to go to the office to get Aya to help me. They were shocked to see me on my day off, but soon understood. Aya called and arranged the delivery. I waited around my apartment and finally got the package. And the downloading commenced. Yay for connecting with my friends at home again! Yay for bittorrent! Yay for Yayhooray!

I hardly remember if I did anything more that day. I probably just surfed around like crazy.

August 21: I believe I spent a good portion of the day preparing some photos to show from my first few weeks here. After that, I wandered down to the beer festival near the station just to see what was happening there. I bumped into Randy who has been living in Ichinoseki for 18 years. Go figure. I think it might be getting to him too (or it was the beer), but he seems a little strange. Small world though – he’s from Didsbury, not too far from Calgary at all.

I also ran into David another JET from Southern Iwate. He studied economics at Berkeley and seemed nice enough. He might benefit from a bit more positivity in his life, but that seems to be the case with a few people around here.

The festival featured a day of big bands, but I only caught the last one. A creepy old Japanese lady was singing ‘The Girl from Ipenema’ (not a clue how to spell that actually) among other showtunes. Weird, but fun. Actually, that could very well be Japan’s motto.

I believe I spent the evening hunched over in front of the computer, bathing in its glow and also preparing for the conference. It was an early night so that I could catch the early train up to Morioka.

August 22: That early train was necessary because Hazuki and I were catching a bus to Miyako for some sightseeing. Without a hitch, we hooked up and got on the bus. The ride was gorgeous. I kept thinking it was reminding me of something, but I couldn’t pinpoint what. It was not lush enough for Hawaii, but it didn’t suggest anything Canadian. Maybe some spot in Ecuador – I really can’t say.

Hazuki and I chatted along the way and before we knew it, we were in Miyako scouting around for the tourist information centre. We (well, mostly Hazuki and her knowledge of Japanese) figured out where we were destined then quickly grabbed some soba before our bus arrived.

The bus took us directly to Miyako’s most famous beach, Jodogahara (another spelling nightmare, provided by the Japanese). White stones lead down to the water where sunbathers admired the view of the sculpted rock formations a short swim out to sea. The white cliffs made for a gorgeous view that I could have photographed for hours, but alas, no one is patient enough to bear the tectonic pace of my photography. So, I tried to shoot quickly and not hold Hazuki up – I think I might have to travel back and plan for more time to shoot.

We wandered along the coastline and came to the docks were the ferries shipped people along the water to view Miyako’s sights. This ferry is renowned for the number of seagulls that flock alongside the boat and take food directly from the hands of the passengers. The timid Hazuki feared the seagull droppings, but we were spared their filth and enjoyed a nice ride. Along the way we passed a rock spire as well as a blowhole. The entire coast featured interesting rock and cliff formations that called to have their photos taken if only some calmer seas were available.

After the boat ride, we wandered back to Miyako. Along the way, we passed shady docks, fishermen and their shady fish from the boat-filled bay and some birds of prey I wish I could identify. I think they may have been hawks, but possibly falcons. I had no idea there were any such birds in Japan, so it came as a nice surprise to watch them circling overhead and mingling with the crows.

We arrived early back at the train station and decided to take the bus back early. Hazuki slept much of the way home and I was able to read my book.

We went for dinner where I got my first experience with the notorious fish-flakes in Japan. They wouldn’t be so bad if they just didn’t stick to everything, but once they’re made contact with your food, they are more tenacious than Spiderman’s webs.

After dinner, we were going to go to Hazuki’s but we ran into Ciara (who lives near Morioka, in Shizukui-shi) and sat with her at the coffee shop while she waited for her train (or bus, I can’t remember now). The Irish lass with the gravel voice chatted with us a while then ventured home, as did we.

There, Hazuki showed me around her colossal apartment and we talked the night away while watching the finale of a charity telethon. On TV a girl was running the 100th kilometer of her past 24 hours and slowly approaching a stadium in Tokyo. She reached her destination and much weeping ensued.

August 23: I had the morning to kill before the conference started so I took the bus into town with Hazuki then wandered Morioka’s streets. Nothing to stellar jumped out at me, but it was a pleasant enough morning. I visited their cherished bridge, the Iwate bank that many of the tourist brochures had raved about (which turned out to merely be an example of fairly ordinary colonial architecture – an oddity in Japan, but nothing spectacular on the world scale) and a few other minor sites.

I met Hazuki for lunch and we hit the conbini then the park for a picnic. Soon after, I was back at the kencho and hanging out with all the other first years. That afternoon held some speeches and a trivia game for us, then the different regions of the prefecture gathered together to chat more intimately. Some of the cynics started emerging early, but I had a fine enough time, so no worries. We learned about some of the places to visit in Iwate and started mingling with a few of the second and third-years before we ambled (or in my case with my heavy bags, trudged) over to the hotel.

I may be mixing up nights, but I believe that was the night they held a welcome party for us in the hotel. Again, we had a few more speeches, met the superintendent of the prefecture and mingled to our heart’s content. Afterwards, the Irish pub was the venue of choice and a bunch of second-years joined us. I was excited because they were actually showing Olympic basketball on TV. The only way I had been able to see a game up to this point was by downloading one. The U.S. was playing and, predictably, thrashing Angola. But then everyone got the bright idea to up and leave for who knows where.

I believe a large group went of to karaoke or perhaps some other nomihoudai extravaganza, but the group I was with (led by Claire) headed to Moonsoon where we piled into a smoky room and those of us who weren’t drinking were ostracized from the other nomihoudai folks. Allan, April, Sarah (a different one, staying in Northern Iwate) and I were forced to sit at a different table, but we got all the smoke we could consume for free. We didn’t last long and went home in the rain. Apparently, later that night, one of the Mikes threw up in the fountain at the restaurant. Classy.

August 24: The conference shifted to its main venue, the International Plaza where we listened to a bunch of speeches and had our first Japanese lessons. In my dopey group of Japanese rookies, we fumbled through the greetings and such. Apparently, we were too dopey for a couple people and they switched to a higher grade (though I suspect one person did it because we weren’t cool enough – and that wasn’t Krista). Krista, Ciara and I went to a little coffee shop and I had grilled cheese sandwiches and a smile.

After lunch, we struggled to keep our heads up during more presentations. The best part of the afternoon was the tea ceremony demonstration. I sat hypnotized by their movements. Their graceful hands flowed between each movement, never jerking, never abruptly stopping. Just gorgeous.

Once the day was finished, we were scheduled to have a scavenger hunt around Morioka. We met in the lobby where Thanet and I bounced between groups and got abandoned by others. I eventually ended up with Ciara, Evelyn and Krista who decided shopping would be more fun than a scavenger hunt. We headed to Daiei where they picked through the trashy outfits and found a few things worth buying. God help Evelyn if she ever gets a high credit limit.

After shopping we grabbed a pizza (Krista and I picked off the meat) at some restaurant Krista had previously visited. Then the girls made the mistake of ordering some dish that they thought was desert. It turned out to be some foul-smelling egg concoction with soy sauce on it. Then again, it was egg, so of course it would smell bad to me. They got through some of it though, so it couldn’t have been all bad, even though it smelled that way.

We then went back to the Irish pub where everyone was meeting after the scavenger hunt. Maybe this was the night the basketball game was on. Hard to say really, but regardless, I was dragged along to Moonsoon again. And again, the nomihoudai was flowing. I said hi to a few people, but I didn’t stay long. David and (I’m blanking, who was that?) walked back to the hotel with a stop at a cool little indie record shop on the way. I hung out in my hotel room for a bit then went to bed.

August 25: More of the same followed at the next day of the conference. Talks on life in Japan and Japanese lessons were interrupted only by our trip to Gusto for lunch. Krista, Evelyn and I indulged in some pizzas and plumped up in the process. I almost fell asleep after lunch, but held myself together until the origami presentation. There, we learned how to make some paper hats, but I have recently discovered that I forgot the technique completely. We also made some paper airplanes and tossed them across the room to see whose would fly the furthest. I made a stunt plane, so mine didn’t fare to well in the distance department. If only I would have known that was the point of the competition. Thanet fared well I later learned because one of the Japanese ladies present helped design her plane. Cheater!

That night, AJET organized a restaurant night where the group could choose among five different locations. Ciara, Colin and I raced to get to the sign-up sheet for Bangkok, the Thai place. I went with the masses on that one. Ciara said it was great, but I had no idea. Colin ran interference then got all out names on the list before anyone else could steal the sheet from him.

The place was popular and our accomplishment was undermined when they opened up more spots. What a shame, now we would have to have more company. In a little basement restaurant, I sat and talked with Raechel most of the time – she also did me the favour of ordering a vegetarian dish for me.

With satisfied bellies, we headed over to Shidax for karaoke. It took me a while to warm up to things in the non-drinking room, but I did a decent version of Weezer’s ‘Buddy Holly’ then started wandering to the other rooms where the parties were in full swing. My breakout song was Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ and I don’t know that I stopped singing after that. Shouting rather. I had to compete with the din of the drunks after all.

Then, I think it was Thanet that just started wandering into random rooms full of Japanese people and a new trend was born. A bunch of us joined three young lads who liked punk rock songs and sang some song about cherry blossoms (a.k.a. Sakura) to Sakura. Then, Erin dragged Matt, Garry and I to a room of Japanese women who giggled at our every broken note. I ended the evening hoarse and capable of only singing Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’ as a finale.

Ciara finally allowed me to leave and we set off for the hotel at about 2:00 am. I think the alcohol may have actually been more plentiful in her system than blood. I headed upstairs for as much sleep as I could cram into the time before breakfast.

August 26: More sleepy eyes for more speeches and lessons on Thursday. For lunch, we dined buffet style in the basement of Kawatoku. The highlight was, of course, the ice cream. Such yummy gelato. Oh hell, I want some now. Actually, after the speeches, I went back with a few folks and got more. It turned out to be my dinner.

The cultural demonstration that afternoon was Shogo (a.k.a. calligraphy). The calligrapher showed us some of the history of the kanji characters and how they have evolved over the centuries then set his brush in the ink and swept it across the papers.

After this demonstration, the ice cream and the exploration of Kawatoku, the evening was filled by a trivia contest at the Irish pub. Our team was competent and threatened to take the gold at one point, but our final round was miserable and we slipped off the podium to fourth. Just like a Canadian. Though, irritatingly, there was not a single Canadian content question the whole night. I was useless in the rounds dominated by questions related to Irish football managers and Kiwi geography.

After the pub, Ciara, Leslie, Mike, Claire and I searched for a spot to drink and eventually found some nook with a hidden elevator that lifted us to a bar meant to be kept secret from first-year JETs. Though, such elitism deserves sabotage. I should really do something about that kind of exclusion’

We talked for hours and I got to bed at around 3:00 am. Considering how tired I was all day, it was an impressive feat.

August 27: One last day of orientation that put our new Japanese lessons to test. We had to perform a skit featuring our new (and slim) knowledge of Japanese. Ours focused on a restaurant scene, as most of them did, but our twist to the subject was the ordeal of attempting to order vegetarian food in Japan.

After some parting words, we went back to Kawatoku for lunch then to the immigration office to get our re-entry stamps. That took forever and we rushed back to the hotel to grab our bags. I decided not to go to the night’s festivities/parties/nomihoudais/carnal orgies of general debauchery or whatever was happening. I was just too exhausted to bother, so Thanet and I took a cab to the station and explored until we found the foreign food shop, Jupiter. We feasted our eyes, but restrained ourselves and only ended up getting some peanut butter and a Perrier for Thanet. In the hustle of leaving the hotel, however, I managed to forget my coat in the lobby. Very clever of me, but apparently they do have it, so I might be able to retrieve it later.

Thanet and I rode the train a while and got to know each other. She has determined that I am going to be her best friend in Japan. Apparently I have no say in the matter. It would be more flattering if she had deliberately picked me rather than just casting a wide net and only getting my bite. But I don’t mind, I’m just using her for her car. Ha!

Back home, I barely made it back to my house with my two big bags on my bike. I tried an alternative means of riding and it was decidedly unsuccessful. I even managed to hit a pole while after making only one push of the pedal. Grace and style!

Soon after I started settling in, I got a call from Uri. He, Sally and Isaac had missed their train in Morioka and needed a place to stay in Ichinoseki since their respective busses and trains wouldn’t be running until the next day. Of course I happily obliged and I was soon heading back to the train station to meet them.

I made the mistake of suggesting that the walk to my house was 25 minutes. It actually took 50. We were walking slowly and everyone’s bags were weighing them down (and were falling over to boot), so our progress was indeed slowed. Poor Isaac couldn’t get his bags to co-operate and he just looked dead tired. He also had to get up to take a bus at some ungodly hour the next day to get to his school’s festival.

When we finally arrived at my place, they all marveled at its apparently palatial beauty and luxurious amenities. Go figure. I guess I have to do a better job of appreciating what I have. We all hung about and chatted for a while before it was bedtime. They were able to squeeze into my living room (Sally not being exactly an Amazon helped fit the puzzle together).

August 28: Isaac parted early and Sally and Uri decided to go shopping in the Rodeo Drive of Southern Iwate, Ichinoseki. I slept like a log and didn’t hear them get up, get ready, leave, return, have breakfast, wash dishes, and leave again. Yay for earplugs! I felt bad though, I forgot to leave out some towels and such for their morning showers. Bad host. Bad!

Anyway, they were just happy they didn’t have to sleep on the station floor. They were appreciative enough to bring me some omiyage from Morioka too. So nice of them.

The previous day, Thanet and I had decided that we should make use of that car of hers and take a little road trip to Tono. I took the train up to Shiwa that afternoon and met her at the station (after wondering for a while if I was in the right city).

She took me to her apartment and gave me the grand tour, complaining all the while of its shit-holedness. It wasn’t that bad though. No, it wasn’t great, but it was livable. But again, I am appreciating what I have ever more. Even though my rent sucks in comparison with many other arrangements.

We hung about, chatted and snacked a while then headed over to her drumming practice. She is participating in the Shiwa festival and will be drumming on a float while wearing the sexiest garb imaginable. Those split-toed shoes really get my mojo workin’. I was free to roam through the practice and take photos, including many of the children’s practice. They were adorable, especially this one little seven-year-old girl who couldn’t take her eyes off me and smiled every time I returned her stare.

We returned to Thanet’s apartment after the practice and we chatted the night away while making plans for our road trip.

August 29: I woke early to the melody of Eidelweiss ringing through the Shiwa streets at 7:00 am. It’s a reminder for everyone to do his or her daily exercises. Sort of like call to prayer, but less spiritual and more annoying. I read while Thanet attempted to sleep off her cold. She was unsuccessful, but I think the only decent sleep she got that night was when I was out of the room in the morning – she said I didn’t snore though, so I feel no guilt.

After slowly preparing ourselves for the day, we excitedly got in the car and headed for Tono on our inaugural road trip. Maps in lap, I was barely able to guide Thanet through the kanji-labelled streets, but we did make it, much to our mutual satisfaction.

After looping through the city a couple times, we found parking then went to a place called Picasso for lunch. Again, we reveled in our new independence as we successfully ordered vegetarian dishes and rewarded ourselves with some indulgent sundaes.

We called Garry and met up with him at the station. He guided us to a temple, then, when he realized he didn’t really mean to guide us there, we started off for the 500 Buddhas.

What a gorgeous spot. Moss-covered rocks initially seem quite unassuming. Jungle trees surround the stones and shaded us from the sun. As we wandered into the woods, however, the unique nature of the stones became apparent. Each of them has an image of a Buddha carved into it. The moss covers most of them, but you can vaguely make out their shapes if you make careful examinations. But, some of the stones have been scrubbed clean – each year, some children are sent into the woods to clean a selection of the stones.

The mosquitoes could hardly dampen our wonder as we kept finding more hidden faces staring back from the rocks.

After exploring the nearby woods and determining that we were only wandering logging roads, we headed back down across the road to find a couple more temples. The first tiny shrine was a lucky place for girls who want to get married. Thanet got a fortune, tied a ribbon and hoped for a happy marriage. Garry interpreted that her fortune told her she was going to marry Bono. That was okay by Thanet.

We then trekked up a good set of stairs to another temple. After that, Garry led us on a wild sheep chase through the forest. Our circuitous route eventually took us back to Tono and a little market where flowers were abundant and cheap. Merely on principle, I had to buy a bouquet for Thanet. It was 100 Yen, how could I not?

We dropped Garry off, took a look at his apartment and Thanet proceeded to complain adamantly about the state of her place once more. We drove back to Kitakami where we eventually parted.

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