Yay I’m back and since nobody knows where I went to yesterday, you can read about my adventurous trip to Fukushima today. Yeah Fukushima, but not in the very dangerous tone of the reactoraccident, but the city, 2 hours carride from the eastcoast. It is a very beautiful prefecture of japan, even in late autumn. Still, many foreigners wouldn’t visit it, because they are to afraid of getting sick or maybe even other reasons. Maybe I should explain my reasons of accepting to the trip to let people get another view into this matter. First one is clearly the probably most important rule here in Japan – you don’t say no. And even if people here say it’s fine to decline you still shouldn’t, just out of politeness, because they know that they have a very different maybe even ‘weird’ way of life so they want you to at least give it a try. It’s really important to show them you at least try to get accostumed or else you won’t get accepted in the social life and that’s not a thing you want to experience – ever. Also, I don’t want to be treated as a foreigner much, I want to show my curiousty and interest for Japan, so I can’t act like a whimsy foreigner being picky and frightened, making trouble. Furthermore, I am not exactly afraid of aftereffects of the radioactivity, people live there and they feel good. Of course I’m not a coward, I know it is very unhealthy but I also believe if it’s only for a few days you aren’t going to suffer major problems. Naturally I was aware of the state of the prefecture, wary about eating and coming in contact with my surroundings. Thirdly, to pay my respect. People living in that area have suffered major losses and problems, but they can’t just up and leave, it isn’t that easy here in Japan (i believe it’s nowhere, not just in Japan). Yet leaving those people alone isn’t helping and I’m very surprised and stunned that japanese people, too, are trying to somehow help and are willing to show their support and respect. And my last reason is that I’ve come here because I wanted action, I wanted to travel and experience Japan in every way so I can’t pass up a trip to Fukushima. Keeping that in mind, my diary-entry starts here! Leaving early yesterdaymorning, about 7:30, taking into account that the morningtraffic is suffocating and tiring, doubling the normal time you need from Chiba to Tokyo, we met Fujie-san and Micchan at the office to pick them up. The reason? The whole trip was actually a work related trip, as a thank you for the employees for their hard work and staying with the company for the whole year. A japamese working year starts 1 december and stops 30 November, so every year has such a celebration, like a christmas dinner. Our journey, a group of 10 people plus 2, should bring us to Fukushima, taking the chance to visit an old friend of Tetsuo-san and spending one night in a ryokan, a traditional, japanese old-fashioned hotel, setup with tatami-mats, futon and shoji, the room itself is called washitsu. It often also has hot spring baths and so did ours. Before we got there we had lunch at a very famous soba restaurant, sitting at those clichéd low tables, which was actually my first time. (Soba are cold noodles served with tea and some side dishes like vegetables and some soysauce, wasabi and spring onions) Finishing lunch, we continued on our course to the ryokan when suddenly it started snowing at the foot of the mountain, so Tetsuo-san’s friend decided we should leave our cars and take the bus up the mountain to where the ryokan was located. The higher up we went, the whiter, snowier and foggier it got, already building a thin layer of snow when we arrived around 7 minutes after leaving out cars. For me it was the first snow this year and I think theother haven’t seen snow in a while, too, since it’s not a very common thing around Tokyo. Checking in to the hotel we got on our rooms and I was once again breathtaken. Tatami-mats are mats made of dried ricegras, knotted into a mat which was used as a material to build the floor. They are one of the reasons why japanese people have the habit of taking of their shoes everywhere they go. Futon is the name of an old version of a japanese bed. It’s actually just a thin matress you can roll up and put away easily, the blanket on the other hand was really, really big, fluffy and warm with the simple explanation of it being winter, there two versions of blankets used for Futon. They are really comfortable. Shoji are the sliding doors made of paper. Though I believe the word ‘washitsu’ is too much, our rooms still had a western touch and washitsu is mainly used for complete japanese styled rooms, but i’m not sure about that. Either way, I roomed with Micchan, since we were the only girls on that trip and we got comfortable. We talked a bit and laughed and somehow 2 hours went by, Micchan didn’t want to miss out on the chance to take a bath in the hot spring, japanese ‘onsen’. It is a very famous thing here in japan and in some areas very common, though not an easy task for most foreigners, I at least had some problems, just thinking of taking a bath completely naked with strangers. Yet it was my task to overcome that and show Tetsuo-san I could do it, because he was actually really worried I couldn’t do it. In the end it was so easy, because once we changed into our yukata’s (summer kimono, just one thin layer of cloth) only wearing underwear beneath, the atmosphere changed drastically. I ignored the fact I was going to be naked in front of strangers (I wasn’t raised with the outgoing nature of showing myself naked to people). We went down to the exit where we changed shoes and got out. There were actually 4 sorts of onsen, all outdoor. The first one we took was a little house with 2 baths, 1 for each gender, parted through a wall. Opposite from the entrance there was a locker wall with small cubicles where you could place your clothes and to the right side was a square filled with milky water, smelling like bad eggs. And it was hot, like freaking hot. I couldn’t go in neither did Micchan, luckily there were small bowls placed at the edge, which you could use to splash some hot water over you in preparation. Finally in the water, I felt my limbs go numb from the temperature, it was really nice and relaxing but hot. I was beginning the feel dizzy, my head pounding after not even 10 minutes of sitting in the water, my body numb and itching a little just seconds before we got out and that’s when the real relaxation washes over you – when you leave the water, a feeling of freshness and freedom comes over you and it feels incredible. Putting on our yukata again, we headed for the next one – and my favourite one. It was an ‘only women’ outdoor bath and definitely had the nicest view. You came in and left your shoes at the entrance, on the wall to your right there were the locker spaces, and to your left a wall that parted the bath from the lockers. A peaked aroun that wall offered an awesome view of the hot spring, milky water steaming under the cold temperatures surrounding, snow-clad gras and trees lining the view and a small descent that lead the hot water freely, parting us from the cliffy mountain. Uttering a chorus of ‘Ooooh~ sugoiii~ kirei-neee~ aaah’ we hardly could stop admiring the amazing picture that displayed in front of us, but the coldness got to us and we were more or less forced to meet the hot, steaming water and yet again it was painfully hot. The view actually got even prettier while sitting in the water, enjoying the atmosphere to the fullest. And just as I thought nothing could disturb us, I felt the earth and wood beneath us quiver, the trees and bushes slightly shaking, too. Micchan didn’t even feel the earthquake, though it was actually rather strong, I could only enjoy it, I like earthquake, but that may be because I’d never experienced a serious one. We calmed down instantly and continued to enjoy our bath. It was also no problem to just get out of the water for some minutes, because the heat lingered on your skin and the water didn’t get cold. I liked the frequent change of temperatures because the hotness sometimes really got suffocating and the fresh air was a good help to calm down again before taking a dip again. We repeated it a few times, before we decided to take our leave and try the next one. It was again a bath for both genders, but this time one with an open view, too. The water there was just the right temperature, one where you could sit for hours, but we had a timelimit to keep, so we left not long after entering, to see that the last one was a footbath-onsen with already kind of cold water. With the seats a little wet, we just sat down 3-4minutes before freezing off our backs, and just as we went back in again, a man came along looking if everything was alright, telling us that there was a big earthquake near Sendai, a town not that far away from our location. Arriving at our room just in time, we met up with the others for our dinnerdate. We had reserved a large washitsu and when we got in there was a stage to the left side with a machine in the center and in the room were 12 small tables, each having a small sidetable and pillow to sit on. Lots of tiny pieces of food served on different plates decorated the table as well as a small sake-cup and something to drink on the sidetable. The dishes were very special so left out a lot of things, being not hungry as well. And I concentrated on drinking sake, because the hardest task came with the start of our dinner – karaoke on a big stage. We had a lot of fun, everyone drank aside from Micchan and they sang and I somehow ended up singing, too, kind of tipsy, too, all in all it was a special yet nice dinner japanese style. It ended 8PM, being too tipsy for a dip in the onsen, we went upstairs to our room and were invited by Tetsuo-san to join them in his room. Micchan and I agreed, yet I don’t know what took us more than 1,5h to get into the room next door. Either way we somehow found the way over, me still being very tipsy, and the guys weren’t different, suddenly have more sake and even a big bottle of jaegerbomb – one way to kill me. And as if not being tipsy enough we drank more sake and someone was so polite to pour me and the others some jaegerbomb (oshaku, you remember) after the sake was empty. Time ran by, we downed the jaegerbomb quite fast and not even 5 minutes later everyone said they were tired – me too, but I was still too tipsy. It didn’t even take me 5 minutes to get ready for bed before I laid there and slept like a stone. Micchan woke me up in the morning, saying we should head to breakfast, I followed even though I was super sleepy, but sitting there at the breakfast table, staring at the food made me think it may would ‘ve been better to just stay in bed. I only drank tea, water and orangejuice because I have problems eating just after waking up and maybe I was a little ‘sick’ (like my ma likes to call it). We headed back, seeing that our futon had been rolled up and packed away so I couldn’t even lay down, thankfully tatami are quite comfortable. Deciding to take one last bath we went down for a shorty, since we yet again had made up a time for us to meet. It took us 30 minutes for the 2 outdoor baths and then we rushed up again, for we had only 15 minutes left before checking out. We nearly made it on time, though this time it wasn’t my fault for being late.
Either way, we checked out and got on the bus, heading for the cars waiting at the foot of the mountain. The snow fading with every meter we went down the curvy way. The view was once again breathtaking, beside the street the descent that started already at the hotel continued leading the hot, milky water over lots of stones and leaves, digging it’s way down, the fog surrounding the mountain clouded the view on the city below and made everything seem mysterious, yet gracious (I enjoy watching scenery go by a lot if you haven’t noticed yet).
Anyways, we reached the cars and tucked our luggage away safely again, but we didn’t say good bye, so I concluded our trip hadn’t ended yet, but then I remembered, Tetsuo-san mentioned something about going to the seaside, near the place of the accident last year and we actually did, but first we rode one of us to the Shinkansenstation, so he could catch his bullet train, but then he felt he left his purse in the car and luckily he caught up to us before we were gone. We had to wait an extra half an hour before we picked up where we left of. After two more hours of carride through the sunny countryside decorated by many high mountains and leafless trees, we arrived at a harbour harbouring many fisherboats. Tetsuo-sans friend lead us over the street in a neat, little japanese-style restaurant. Tetsuo-san told me, that there was nothing left of the city after the tsunami crashed there last year. I remembered that the houses all looked very new. Our lunch came, it was salmon-sashimi and salmon-eggs with rice and a miso-clam shell- soup. Being a little sceptical, seeing the clam shell’s and huge fisheggs, I tried and was positively surprised because it tasted really good, it just depends on what you eat to every dish. I was very lucky to have some ginger, improving the taste, making it richer in hotness. Oishii! (Yummy!)
We left the restaurant and took a stroll along the harbour, taking in every detail. 10 minutes later they decided to take a tour along the water, which in fact only was one street. Passing the maybe last significant reminders of the past, we only could get a small idea of how it had looked like right after the incident. Aside from this completely broken house and the big betonsquare, everything looked very fresh and new, like nothing every happened, just occasionally some construction site.
Soon we were on our way home again, having fulfilled our sole purpose of supporting the people living in Soma. And hell, it was so windy, the people driving had problems controlling the cars. Somewhere on the way we stopped and ate an super delicious ice cream, very good, made me very happy. The day so far had every weather possible, snow, rain, sunshine, wind, coming near fukushima the snow-rain started, more wind along with a dark, rainheavy sky joining in. Luckily we reached the highway quite fast, only stopping shortly to say our thanks to Tetsuo-sans friend by endless bows.
Finally back in the cars, we started our journey back home, a ride thick with sleepiness. After about 3h of driving and pausing thrice, we came to Tokyo and it took us another 40 minutes to arrive at the office, but the awesome nightview of Tokyo helped a lot to endure them, we also got a close-up view of the Skytree in all it’s nightlights, and I first then realized how tiny everything get’s in comparison to it’s 634m height. Really impressive.
Arriving at the office, we just went up, let some things there and got back down, saying good bye to Fujie-san and giving Micchan a lift to the Metrostation, continuing our way to Chiba and since the it was an early saturday evening the streets weren’t crowded with traffic.
Coming home, Emiko-san was quick to prepare dinner for us and we came just in time to see the last 3 participants of the ISU grand prix finale of figure skating in russia. Suzuki Akiko was the next up and got third in ranking, the next was some girl from usa and last but not least Asada Mao, skating her seasons best and getting 15points more than the earlier first in ranking. Her run was really perfect. (http://m.youtube.com/results?q=asada%20mao%202012) This was also her winning performance for the NHK Trophy I wrote about. Beautiful.
She rounded my evening well, so I said my good nights to both and went up in to my room, to write the first part of this, since I originally wanted to update yesterday, but I was too tired to stay up any longer. Today after getting up, I went down for breakfast and up again, because my room needed a thoroughly cleaning session and I must say I was quite successful. But other than that, nothing really happened. Dinner were oyster-tempura, brokkoli, miso-clam shell- soup housemade, and some leftover curryrice. Was very tasty. I got up in my room quite early today and now I’m going to bed.