1:00 pm

A small hotel room in Morioka. The Japanese premium on space is becoming ever more apparent. The bed dominates the room and my chair only barely fits comfortably between the bed and desk. It almost feels like a Murakami character could come knocking on my door any second coolly demanding, with no explanation, that I gather my things to be escorted to the black limousine waiting outside. This sense of absurdity is broken only by the music seeping from the laptop’s speakers. I need a little taste of home, don’t I? For right now, Billy Talent reminds me of Canada.

We just arrived at the Hotel Ace in downtown Morioka where we have time to kill before a presentation of our certificates. What the certificates represent has slipped my mind, but that only adds to the surrealism of having arrived in Northern Japan with a group of people I hardly know to teach – a job at which I have no experience. But, given the endless speeches, workshops, lineups, travel, and periods of waiting, I’m surprisingly energetic. Maybe it’s the music.

Last night, Canadians were herded through the hotel as we attempted to check our bags then make our way into a taxi to visit the Canadian embassy. A good 200 of us braved the Tokyo streets to find ourselves at a rather impressive piece of property where the Canadian government has set up both an embassy and an office tower. Apparently, it’s the only self-sufficient Canadian embassy – the land is prime real estate and the office space they rent out easily pays for the embassy’s operations.

The purpose of our invitation there was quickly divulged to us. They wanted to indoctrinate us to incessantly tout the virtues of our fine country to the Japanese people. We were to become 200 unpaid tourism and promotion agents. But at least they gave us some food. As is quickly becoming the norm in Japan, the vegetarian pickings were slim, but I managed to pack enough food into my stomach to keep me from having to buy additional dinner later.

The highlight of the visit to the embassy, however, was the table hockey. A nice slice of home, a few of us had sudden death games of red versus blue or Canadiens versus Leafs or Flames versus Lightning, depending on who was the commentator at the time. I lost my match to Owen’s Canadiens despite some rock-solid, Terry Sawchuk-esque goaltending.

Our trip home was on the subway that proved to be remarkably simple to use. Dave led us to the station and put us through the paces to get our tickets then led us to the right line. The subway trains were enough to make the passengers jealous of sardines. Even at that semi-late hour, the cars were past packed – in Calgary, most people would have simply waited for another train, but fighting your way on board is the norm here.

Once back at the hotel, I gathered my cameras and navigated the Keio plaza’s labyrinthine lift system to get to the 47th floor for more top-floor photos. The staff there was kind enough to dim the lights and open the curtains for me while I shot the landscape that looks like a leftover set from Blade Runner. Yes, I did just make that comparison – I know everyone else who has seen the film and been to Tokyo says that, but perhaps there’s a reason.

An early evening still didn’t provide that much sleep since Darrell’s snores kept my ears on edge for the last half of the night. If only I could have worn my ear plugs, but I didn’t want to miss my alarm for the departure this morning.

After breakfast and another substantial waiting period, we boarded a bus to the station. There, we had time to grab some lunch for the train ride and I finally started feeling like I was in Japan. The stations halls were as busy as an ant hill and had a similar chaotic order to them. Vending machines lined the walls between food kiosks and Hazuki guided me to the most vegetarian noodle option we could find (which turned out to be a little bit fishy, but bearable).

The bullet train ride was as smooth as could be – you hardly noticed you were speeding past the countryside. It certainly didn’t feel nearly as quick as it was. The landscape whizzing past us was never free from the hand of man. Where houses and buildings didn’t cover the landscape, rice paddies stretched over the flat land. Occasionally, a tree-lined hill would rise and hint at the distant mountains, but they soon rejoined the level ground. Iwate, however has more texture to the terrain. The proportion of hills to flat land here is greater than in the rest of the journey.

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