If you thought my adventures around Miyagi prefecture had come to and end, you were – quite fortunately, no? – wrong. While they haven’t become fewer, they have farther between; however, as you shall come to see this is made up for by the sheer quality of the experience. It is not only my duty, but also my pleasure, to share it as best I can with you all today. Not in this post, mind you. For photos, you’ll just have to be a good doggie and look to my Facebook page. I’ll make it easy for you.
Due to our early departure from Sendai City – the heart of the Tohoku area – and my unfortunate lack of sleep the preceding night, I spent the first hour or so of bus riding trying to make up for what I had involuntarily sacrificed the night before.I tried to sleep. But I couldn’t. I can’t say whether it is due to the slightly cramped seat, the constant noise and chatter, or simply the feeling of not being still, but I am now of those unlucky individuals who cannot manage to fall asleep in a moving vehicle. So along with the sun’s movement across the sky, I myself moved deeper and deeper into that strange and slightly unsettling state of existence which is the result of a sudden, negative change in one’s otherwise so finely tuned sleep schedule.You know how it feels, don’t you? As if you’re slightly detached, isolated even, from the rest of the world, its people, and its climate. It’s almost as if being placed within some container, with thin, transparent walls which somehow do not exclude sound from entering, but manages to keep its victim completely isolated from the heat of the sun. It’s not a feeling of freezing cold that is experienced, but rather a stagnant, mist–like coolness surrounding you. And, there is also the sensation of some similar invisible barrier existing within you – containing your blood, keeping it’s warmth from spreading from your core to the rest of your body. But the inside of the bus was warm, and the hot bath later that first evening seemingly did wonders for my cold spirit.
Our first destination was Ishinomaki. This town was the one most directly affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011. A large part of it was completely destroyed, but it’s being rebuilt, and it was great to see the recovery that has been accomplished – and even more uplifting was to hear about the future projects for this town. We had it all explained to us by Director of Ishinomaki Community & Info Center (sorry…I don’t know if that’s anywhere near his official title, but it’s the best I can do!), mr. Richard. He is a British man, judging by his accent, who has lived in Ishinomaki for the last 20 years, meaning that he was on location when the tsunami struck four, almost five, years ago. Obviously he is fluent in both English and Japanese, so you’ll have no problem communicating with him, regardless of your origins! I very much recommend that you visit Ishinomaki to find out what happened and what is being done to improve the situation. It was all very interesting and I learned much!
After a delicious lunch consisting of hamburger patties (pannbiff, någon?) and kamameshi (sort of a rice–and–other–ingredients–for–example–vegetables–mixture) we went to the excellent Ishinomori Mangattan Museum. And, before you so kindly point out to me what you think is a typo, I’ll preempt your somewhat thoughtless attack on my typing abilities, and explain that I did in fact not mean to write Manhattan. Mangattan. It survived the tsunami, and still stands as a monument to the great manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori. He was a prolific artist, and created many hit manga and anime, among others an extensive chronicling of the history of Japan, and the motorcycle–riding superhero Kamen Rider. There is a large amount of artwork on display, and again I strongly recommend a visit!
I believe I have mentioned a historic link between Japan and Europe – between Miyagi prefecture and Spain, in particular. The founder of Sendai was a samurai by the name of Date Masamune. He was an open–minded and curious man, and particularly interested in international trade and intercultural exchange. In the very early 1600s, Date Masamune launched a diplomatic journey to Spain, with the purpose of establishing relations with the pope. The envoy was led by one of Date Masamunes retainers, the nobleman and samurai Hasekura Tsunenaga, and many others participated.
Today, the location of a replica of the ship they used can be visited in Miyagi prefecture, in Ishinomaki to be more precise (yup, we’re still in the same town, people!). The original was built with European ship–building techniques, so it sure does stand out in Japan!
Our last activity in Ishinomaki was to attend a presentation held by the local Ishinomaki 2.0 movement. They are a group dedicated not only to the restoration of their town, but also to its growth and future development – in short, they want to create Ishinomaki 2.0. They are a very hard–working and open–minded bunch of people, and welcome a great many different activities and educational programs to improve their city. Emphasis was placed on education in computer programming, and they did mention that if one want’s to start a business, there is no easier place to do it in than Ishinomaki (hint, hint)!
Then, we left Ishinomaki for Oiwake Onsen, a local onsen. If you do only one thing in Japan, I would certainly not judge you for choosing to visit an onsen. In fact, I’d kind of judge you for choosing not to go to an onsen! The atmosphere is great, and the hot bath is incredibly relaxing and revitalizing, and you are provided with a yukata to wear afterwards, or before too, if you want. As for the bath itself, it was a public one, and I’m sure not the biggest even in this region. But surely it was for that very reason the atmosphere was of a special character. Since it’s public, though, it comes with a quid pro quo. First of all, any kind of bathing suit or trunks are prohibited. That means you take the bath i bara mässingen. Naked, that is. Second, you thoroughly clean yourself before entering the bath itself. This is done by means of showers in the bath area, or nearby. Make sure to clean your whole body as well as wash your hair (oh, and as a short bonus I’ll tell you that one of the other participants in this trip advised not to dunk the small towel in the bath – place it to the side or on your head). Thirdly – and this is really the first thing you should worry about – you are usually not allowed into the public bath area if you have any tattoos. Period. Otherwise, I’d say just use your common sense and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in a public bath in your own native country.
Naturally, I do not have any pictures to show you of the inner sanctum of the Oiwake Onsen. But google it, and you’ll get the idea!
The next day began just as early as the day before, meaning I was still slightly out of tune with my sleeping needs. Still, after a full seven hour sleep session, I was in a better shape than yesterday!
On this, the second day of our tour, we visited Tomoyama, the Meiji–village of Miyagi prefecture, i.e. a town with many standing buildings from the Meiji era of Japanese history. Our first stop was the school building, and then we continued to a samurai museum, which, sadly, did not allow for photographies to be taken.
We had a lunch similar to the one we had the previous day, but with hamburger patties made from pork. It was at least equally delicious, if not more so.
The first activity of the afternoon consisted of visiting Kanaka Museum. It’s a museum. Yep. Of sound. And smell. And touch. And sight. The only sense not getting it’s stimuli in this museum was taste, but I’m willing to consider the lunch we had just had as a part of it! So, what is actually in this unusual place? Well, several different exhibitions, contraptions and objects relating to the phenomenon known as senses. No, not sensei. SENSES! Anyway, every room in the museum connects to one of the five sensei in some way, such as the room where you can smell different kinds of natural scents, and the room where you have to – in total darkness, by the way – stick your hand into holes to feel what’s inside. In the reception area there are a collection of musical instruments, shall we call them? Strange contraptions made of wood, plastic and metal which all produce sweet music when interacted with. Oh, and there is also a big wheel which allows for people to lie down on their backs and push pedals with their feet in order to have a mechanical arm draw with chalk on a wall. Don’t know which sense that is.
Finally, we began our last activity: kokeshi painting in he Japan Kokeshi Museum. Kokeshi is a traditional Japanese wooden doll, and the art of painting the is just that. An art. As in incredibly difficult! As you can see, I painted kind of tribal design on mine (even tribal facial tattoos). After the paint has dried, the kokeshi are waxed and wiped with a tool in order to provide a nice shiny surface! Whohoo! I’m not overly proud of what I managed to achieve in this field, but I’m very happy I was able to partake in it. And, to see the large collection (5000 dolls!) of kokeshi on display in the museum.
I’m very happy I got to try out and see all these different things and places. I had a great time, even though I was tired and sleepy. Great food (lots of sashimi in the onsen!), great activities and great people! I’m looking forward to the next trip!
I’m in Takarazuka now, staying with my love and her family until next month, and year! So, don’t expect a whole lot of updates.
Until next time.