Day Three: Disney Sea

 

Photo taken courtesy of Micchan (https://shopaholicinjapan.wordpress.com/)

 

Although I’m not a Disney otaku (not by a long shot), I don’t mind excursions to theme parks every once in a great while and I’ve been to several Disneylands and Disneyworlds but Disney Sea is the one that caused me the most concern. For starters it’s built right on the ocean (the inner geologist in me convulsed) yet it’s so artistically put together and picturesque that it’s hard not to enjoy the beauty of the park. Mind, I didn’t have time to really explore (wait lines take up to four hours depending on the popularity of the ride) so I’ll have to go back just to visit the Aladdin themed section of the park.

Being the classy, working ladies that we are, we booked a fancy lunch. Well worth the money, only wish there had been more food! Pear compote recipes, I will master you yet…

My favorite part of Disney Sea? Location. As much as I freaked out internally about the location itself, for ecological and geological reasons, I caved in to my willful ignorance and stopped thinking about it around twenty minutes in to our visit. Also the popcorn hunt was fun (but those can be found at Tokyo Disneyland as well).

Least favorite part? All the people. Never mind social anxiety and introversion, there were just too many people for such a small park – go figure, it was Spring Break – and wait lines for the popular lines went anywhere from an hour and a half to four hours. We were waiting in line at Indiana Jones for at least two hours when they finally turned us away… the ride broke down or something.

Prices have been hiking in recent years but are still cheaper than SoCal and Florida, especially now that the dollar is finally stronger than the yen so take advantage while you still can!

Advertisements

Akita Road Trip 2014

Three day weekend. Good company. An open road. It’s road trip time!

Life is like a Kei car going up a windy mountain road: loud and full throttle 😀 The prelude of our first (of what we are sure will be many more) three-day-weekend road trips began with an excursion to Hirosaki, the castle town of Aomori Prefecture. In these parts it’s a time of apples and harvesting, so the Ringo Kouen (Apple Park) we visited was ripe for the picking. It’s approximately 200 yen for every kilo you pick and the time limit is fifteen minutes. Guides give tours of the land, explain local farming techniques, teach the proper way to test apples for ripeness and instruct in the correct methods for picking apples. Apples are absolutely my most favorite fruit in the world so when it came time for mine to be weighed, an astounding four kilos in fifteen minutes seemed to break the gaijin picking record 😉

 

Akita Prefecture is known for two things: Namahage (evil demons who come to terrorize and steal your children) and bijin (beautiful people, particularly women). There are also no apple flavored drinks, jams, or themed foods anywhere. That is sadly how we knew we were no longer in Aomori. Otherwise it looks much like the rest of Tohoku, windy mountain roads and the most beautiful trees I have ever seen in my life. Though the rest of Japan might feel that Aomori is the backwoods and full of country bumpkins, there are surprisingly more adventurous and kind people in these parts than anywhere else that I have seen. A woman working at the Namahage Museum told us many interesting stories about how her husband was a farming activist who lived out of his car and traveled all around the country to test water and soil levels for pollution. Most of my adult night class students have also traveled abroad a minimum of six to ten different times for farming conventions or have generally seen more of the world than the average city slicker (which is what they call city folk). There’s just something about Tohoku that’s off beat and refreshing. I recommend any traveler looking to get a real taste of Japan to go into the backwoods to see how real people live and celebrate life. Akita and Aomori so far have not disappointed and I look forward to travelling to each and every prefecture before my time is up in Japan.

We finished our day excursion to Akita with a relaxing out door onsen, watching the moon rise above the trees. Onsen (for those unfamiliar with the concept) is a communal outdoor or indoor bath and it is often times translated as bathing in a hot spring. While ours certainly mimicked the natural environment in which a hot spring would be found, it was by no means natural.

To get to Akita from Aomori, it is a three hour drive, round trip six, and requires at least one gas tank refill in a kei car. If travelling with a group of friends cost of the trip is cheaper because it’s broken down among four or five people. Generally you’re looking at this for a cost analysis break down: ~3,000 yen for gas (one 18L tank); ~2,000 yen for toll roads (or free if you don’t mind driving four hours on a non-toll road); ~1,000 yen for dinner at a restaurant (half that price for convenience store food); ~700 to 1,000 yen for onsen. The trip is easily going to cost 10,000 to 20,000 depending on your personal spending habits though as omiyage (souvenirs) can be upwards of 2,000 yen for everyone in your office.

The Aomori Blues, Part II

Summer time in Japan is unlike any other in the world. This is a time for hanabi (fireworks) and yukata (summer version of the kimono)… and of course matsuri!

Matsuri can occur at any time of the year (for example, Hokkaidou is famous for its winter Yuki Matsuri, or Snow Festival) but for Aomori, the time to come is generally in the summer. The best part: anyone can participate in matsuri! So long as you have the appropriate wear, of course.

Up above you’ll find two example of matsuri-wear, both known as yukata although they serve different functions. The first two are a front and backside shot of summer yukata, which I borrowed from Mina who was also kind enough to help me into it. Yukata can be put on in one of two ways: alone and with great difficulty or with friends who will help you get the job done faster but with more fun! If you don’t want to participate in the local matsuri but would like to experience wearing the traditional Japanese summer wear, there are a stores in larger cities that rent out yukata for a couple of hours at a time. They also help with the dressing and undressing but yukata can be quite cheap to purchase plus make great souvenirs from a trip abroad. Ultimately it’s up to you though they are by no means mandatory to wear if your plan is just to attend as a bystander.

The third picture, however, is of a shorter yukata that is mandatory for participation in the Nebuta Matsuri. Dressed participants will join in, jumping and dancing rhythmically to the chant of: ‘Rasse-ra! Rasse-ra!” Although it’s difficult to see in the third picture, there are small bells attached to the costume. According to popular legend, if all your bells fall off during the dancing then that is very lucky. The only way to make the bells fall? Dancing even harder, of course! Frenzied dancers are oftentimes encircled by their peers as the chant climaxes ever louder and more excited until it finally dwindles down. One of the new JETs had the honor of experiencing this and we were surprised at the extent to which her energy infected the group. Japanese people are almost always excited to find that foreigners love and are more than willing to participate in their culture if only given a chance.

So what goes down at a matsuri? Pretty much the same eat, drink, and party-esque atmosphere that you can find the world over. Amazing street food stalls line the roads, Nebuta floats are dragged through the blood/sweat/tears of children and adults alike, and of course where there’s a party, there will be alcohol.

I apologize for the video. My phone wasn’t sending the important files so you only really get a concise sense of the crazy-ness of matsuri time. It’s actually a quite vibrant and exciting time to be in Japan. Not going to lie though: it’s as humid as the first eight circles of Hell and no joke about it. The further north you go, the shorter the amount of time that the region remains humid. In Tokyo, the humidity levels begin to kick in around late May to early June and only dissipate with the autumn season, which begins around mid October. According to my boss, Shinbori-san, Aomori only really experiences three weeks worth of humidity. On the downside, it gets cold fast… in late September. From there the inevitable but sure progression of autumn to winter commences at an alarming rate. The fact that I’m from California seems to have gone around town at 299,792,458 m/s. It seems as if the first thing people ask me, after inquiring how well I like the region, is this: “So for winter… will you be okay?”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the nice way of saying: “You are oh so very screwed, my friend.” Because in Aomori, winter isn’t coming… it’s arrived before you know it! Take that George R.R. Martin! 😉

Finally we have the absolute most adorable airport mascot in the world: IGUBE THE SEA CUCUMBER! I think he might a bit of a celebrity (similar to Little Sebastian from Parks and Recreation) because my JET colleagues freaked out in the same way the citizens of Pawnee flipped a table over their favorite miniature horse ❤ To be fair, he is this pudgy little sea cucumber with tiny arms and no legs: what’s not to love?! ^-^

My New Life…

gonohemachi

…is starting this July ❤ I will be living further north than I have ever lived before and teaching English in a small coastal town called Gonohemachi in Aomori Prefecture on Honshu Island (the main island of Japan). It’s everything I hoped for and wanted: to be so far removed from my previous haunts in Tokyo, a new place to explore, and lots of snow for winter 🙂 And the best part? It’s a stone’s throw from a national park!!! I’m going to be having a blast geologizing my way though rocks, rocks, and more rocks!

And like the geek that I am, my research on this general area will be presented below for anyone who cares to know more about social, historical, and geographical information on the Touhoku region and Aomori Prefecture.

towadako

As previously stated, Aomori Prefecture is located in the northernmost geographical region known as Touhoku in Honshu Island. Due to it’s unique geology (mainly the north-south Ou Mountains, a chain that separate eastern and western halves of the prefecture), the area is known for its natural beauty and it’s climate where temperatures range anywhere from extremes of -7.8 degrees Celsius in the winter to 34.0 degrees Celsius in the summer – or to convert into Fahrenheit that would be anywhere from 17.96 to 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit (APTINET). The median recorded temperature seems to average 10.1 degrees Celsius or 50.18 degrees Fahrenheit (APTINET). It’s ideal for growing apples, yams, and garlic all of which happen to be the region’s main agricultural output (Umai Aomori). Lake Towada itself is a caldera, the crater remains of an active volcano. Pyroclastic flows in the area have shown that the blasts from this caldera have gone as far north as Aomori City at the very tip of the island and its last explosion occured approximately 13,000 years ago (Japan: The Official Guide). Compared to Yellowstone National Park (the whole thing is one gigantic caldera and still active as evidenced by its geysers and natural springs), Towada-ko’s eruption would be dangerous but unimpressive in its magnitude. Although maybe I shouldn’t just yet be saying that because anything lethal enough to kill should be considered impressive.

jomonpottery1jomonpottery2

There seem to be a number of Jomon villages reconstructed from archaeological remains that are open to the public for sightseeing. I’m particularly fond of this time period (lasting roughly from 4,500 BCE to 250 BCE) because it is the earliest Japanese civilizations that can be traced through time and for me the rawer the civilization the more interesting. History and mythology blend. Bone records reveal the facial features of the people to get an idea of what they looked like (quite different from what you would think to be Japanese features) and from their trash and pottery remains we have information on their diet and the aesthetics of the time (Jomon Japan). The meaning of Jomon itself comes from the kanji or Chinese characters for “cord” and “making”, referencing the beautiful rope-like decorations on their flame rimmed pots (Hane, Pg. 10-11).

Although it is decidedly less populous than my previous home in Tokyo (honestly can it get more packed than that gem of a city?), I’m excited to have new hiking trails to discover and to learn the Aomori dialect, which is about as rustic and as country as one can get 😀 Less people, less shoving into trains, and less distractions means more communing with nature, more fresh air, and more adventure. What more could a girl possibly want? ❤ I can’t believe just how lucky I am to be placed in the nation’s main regional producer of apples! Apples! My favorite fruit in the whole wide world. The national park is the gem of the package though. Seriously. I am crying tears of joy. The Jomon villages, too, make for awesome sprinkles on the cupcake. Looks like lady Luck just did me a solid and decided to start going my way for once! 😉

 

Jomon village

Jomon village \O/

 

WORKS CITED

APTINET Aomori Prefectural Government. Aomori Sightseeing Guide, 2010. Web. 15 June 2014.

Hane, Mikiso. “The Early Years: Japanese Pre-History”. Premodern Japan: A Historical Survey. Colorado: Westview Press, 1991. Print.

Japan-Guide. Tohoku Travel Guide, 1996. Web. 15 June 2014.

Japan National Tourism Organization. Japan: The Official Guide. Web. 15 June 2014.

Jomon Japan. Jomon Archaelogoical Sites. Web. 15 June 2014.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Prehistory: Jomon Culture, 2000. Web. 15 June 2014.

Umai Aomori. Main Agricultural Products of AOMORI, 2005. 16 June 2014.

 

Note: For those of you who viewed this post on 16 June 2014, you may have been experiencing some technical difficulties… aka, me updating the heck out of this post because I had not realized that I’d accidentally set it to publish automatically on this day at midnight. Sorry about that! Really, I am. Here I was clicking update thinking, “This won’t publish until the 18th anyway, let me go in for one more revision!” Alas, will I never learn? Possibly not, I’m a pen and paper kind of gal and technology hisses at me with a vengeance 😉 But the article is completed and ready for viewing. Further revisions (of which there will be none planned, but should the need arise in the event of a major gaffe) will be listed down here along with dates and times. Thanks!