As charming and picturesque as Aomori Prefecture has been these past few weeks, the need to hit the road for another grand adventure set in last weekend… again. Lately it feels as if there is no distance too long to drive for yet another new experience… or for Christmas shopping! We chose Sendai as last weekend’s prime adventure location for a variety of reasons, primarily because it is home to the Pokemon Center for the whole of Touhoku Region (shameless nerds ;D). Other factors that led to this decision: a) it’s south of the great cold in Aomori Prefecture, b) it’s the largest city in Touhoku, c) Sendai’s weather forecast balanced out at 0 degrees Celsius during the daytime (we were at -6 degrees Celsius up in Aomori).
With the best of company that any driver could desire, an ETA of four hours, snowy roads, and the navigation demon worshipped as Siri, I think Sendai is going to be one of my more favorite road trips for 2014. I probably spent half my paycheck in gifts, tolls, and food but it was worth every last yen.
Things to prepare in advance if you are contemplating a spur of the moment trip to Sendai:
- Tolls: ~11,000 yen round trip
- Hotels: ~7,500 yen per night, breakfast included (the cheapest hostel is about ~2,000 yen)
- Pokemon center: 10,000 – 20,000 yen, depending on number of gifts you will buy for friends and family (or yourself)
- Shopping center: ~20,000 yen for gifts for friends and family (including omiyage)
- Food: depends on your style! Cheapest will be convenience store purchase. Sit down restaurants and bakeries are slightly more expensive but more delicious alternatives.
- Parking: fills up fast and it’s not going to be cheap. Plan to spend anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 yen in parking for the day.
Illumination fills the streets as the spirit of Christmas spreads across the nation; everything – from snowflakes patterns and globes made from lights to glowing orbs and icicles – can be found adorning shops, alleys, and department stores. Driving around the city is quite the experience as well: like every other highly densely populated location on the planet, Sendai is a pain to navigate simply because it’s so crowded (frighteningly enough, it didn’t have nearly as many people as Tokyo) and lacked cheap parking lots. We did not use mass transport that day as everything we needed or wanted to see was located within easy walking distance of the mall’s parking lot (Parco Mall, in case anyone wanted to know where they could hit two birds – Starbucks and Pokemon Center – in one go).
Childhood dreams aside, Pokemon Center was a blast! Despite having lived in Tokyo for a year, I never once stepped inside (a travesty, I know) but hopefully I will soon be able to remedy that (should New Year’s plans go through accordingly); I’m not as big a fan of the show or games as I was at age 8 but I’m still not too old to admit that there was a definite electric shock of 懐かしい feels that went through my spine as soon as I entered. Never before – or ever again, I suspect – will I ever be able to knock out so much Christmas shopping in a single aisle of a single store in a single anywhere. Huzzah!
And now to the interesting tale of the tomato cube lunch from Gontran Cherrier. It’s literally a cube of bread stuffed with mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. They are extremely satisfying to eat, delicious, and interesting. Kim and I probably ate more bread (two muffins, a cube of tomato and cheese per person, quiche, coffee rolls, and a berry tart) in that one meal than at any other time… ever. I have now made it my life’s mission to apprentice at this bakery sometime in the future. The meal in the cube practically sealed the deal for me 😉
One final note before closing: the people of Sendai are always going somewhere. This place, though not quite as busy as Tokyo, is definitely a breeding ground for go-getters. The relaxed inaka lifestyle is nowhere to be found but it makes for an upbeat cross city journey. You’re more likely to see the latest fashions being paraded by members of both sexes than you would in the inaka towns since people actually doll themselves up for a day or night out in the city. That being said, bring your most comfortable pair of shoes because the sales are on and the stakes are high!