Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Living in the Floating World

My dear readers,
I hope you'll pardon the long break I've taken in updating you. A series of unfortunate consequences needed to be overcome for me to continue writing this blog, and I hope I have your understanding that life comes at me in a different pattern here then at home, and even after 6 months of being here, I'm still learning to deal with it.
Now, shall we begin?

Last I left off, Sakie and I were boarding a Shinkansen (bullet train) for one of our many small adventures in the Tohoku Region. This go around it was one of the moderate jewels in the moderate crown of Akita; Lake Tazawako, the deepest lake in Japan.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Sakie and I had made plans to stay at a Onsen (Hot Springs) hotel for the weekend, enjoying the private bath and the view. Normally our plans end up in two places: everything going terribly wrong with the whole trip needing to be resuscitated early on, or going so well that we have an experience beyond our expectations. Our trip to Lake Tazawako was most definatly the latter.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Through a countryside train station:
From Study Abroad: AIU

Hop on a bus and ride it for 20 minutes:
From Study Abroad: AIU

then get off when it appears you've hit the ocean. But you haven't hit the ocean, you've hit a massive lake that, from the bus stop, looks like you've reached the West coast of Japan if the air is hazy enough.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Our hotel, at first glance, looked like a dive. It actually looked so un-appealing that I wasn't concerned with taking my camera out and snapping a picture, because I was sure that we would abandon it and find another hotel. We decided that rather then carry our luggage around, we'd take the chance of leaving it with the front desk. We stepped into their incredibly ornate lobby and they took our bags, even though we had another 4 hours before we could check in. At the time, I thought perhaps the lobby was kept nice to cover for the look of dis-repair outside. Still thinking we might abandon the hotel, we began our walk to see what our little side of the lake had to offer.
From Study Abroad: AIU

From Study Abroad: AIU

From Study Abroad: AIU

Together we went as far West of the hotel as we could go without walking along a major roadway before turning around and beginning our walk back. There had been sporadic rain throughout the day, so the ground was understandably covered in puddles, and on our way back, in one of those puddles, we happened upon this guy:
From Study Abroad: AIU

Make no mistake about it, Ladies and Gentleman, this beetle is not small. In fact, he was as large as a match box, but twice as thick. We found him sitting knee (do beetles have knees?) deep in a puddle, washing himself, or dancing, or praying to the sun God, or just being awesome.
From Study Abroad: AIU

This guy, who I will now refer to as Don DePincer, is ranked in my top 5 most awesome things I have seen here. What's more, Sakie explained to me that beetles like this one are not uncommon in Japan. As a matter of fact, during the summer, young boys will hunt these beetles and keep them as pets for the rest of the year, and there is a bustling beetle industry for toys, foods, and accessories for young bug-hunters. I didn't have any means of catching Don DePincer (as nothing could contain his wit, cunning, and swagger), so I can only assume that he is now the Alpha beetle of Lake Tazawako, living the high life with a harem of beautiful young she-beetles draped across his (knees?).

Of course, while at the lake, I had to sample some of the local foods. It's been my experience that, when traveling abroad, your best, and safest bet, is always to go for the food that is most readily available. Also, by eating what everybody else is eating, you get a more accurate cultural experience. In the area around the lake, the local snack food was called Misotampo.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Misotampo is essentially Akita's famous rice, cooked, and molded around the end of a big wooden spike, slathered in miso paste, and put over a fire to roast. Let me tell you, as far as taste goes, its great, right up until you eat it to fast and get a mouth full of wooden spike.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Further pushing our experience at Lake Tazawako towards greatness, unknown to us, a festival was starting that day. Actually, the festival started right around the time we arrived on the bus. This means, in addition to the local flavors, we also had the opportunity to fill our bellies with the festival foods Sakie and I both love so very much.
From Study Abroad: AIU

Well, 3pm did eventually roll around, so we decided it was time to make our way back to our hotel and make the call to stay or find somewhere new. Walking through the front door, they immediatly sat us down in a posh lobby and served us a tea brewed with the local flora while Sakie filled out the paperwork. We figured once they get their tea in you, its pretty much impossible to back out, so we went ahead and let them take us to our room. Believe me, when they let us in, we were mighty glad we hadnt backed out.
From Study Abroad: AIU

From Study Abroad: AIU

Our room turned out to be larger then Sakie's apartment in Tsuchizaki! Complete with a rocking chair, a raised tatami mat section with an area to sit and look out onto the lake while drinking tea on soft cushions. Everything was pristeen and visually pleasing, with only a few things throwing me for a loop. One being the two beds, but I was then told that it is not so unusual to have two, to seperate a sleeping wife from her snoring husband. The other was the bathroom, which consisted of a sink and a toilet, but no shower. It all seems so logical now, but at the time I had forgotten that we were at a hotel that specializes in it's private and public bath. And, after settling in, we got a chance to use the private bath.
From Study Abroad: AIU

I'm sure you've all noticed the important aspect of this bath. Normally I would take issue with bathing outside, but since comming to Japan I've taken on an attitude of indifference to normally embarassing situations, so I went ahead and dove on in (not literally of course). There is indubidably something about onsen bathing that cannot be matched. If you were to take away any ingredient, the whole experience may very well be ruined. When the time comes for me to come home, onsen bathing will be sorely missed.
From Study Abroad: AIU

As night fell, we made our way to the hotels restaurant where they served us a 5 course dinner of local cuisine, many of which I couldn't stomach, and was somewhat happy to see Sakie could not stomach either. While we sat at the table in our Yukata, the light cotton robes that are traditionally worn at onsen hotels for their comfort and refreshing feel, the staff informed us that the local festival was going to hit a fevered pitch soon with a dragon dance and fireworks display.

Sitting in our Yukata on the tatami mats, watching a fireworks display, I really go the feeling that I was having the kind of experiences you can call once in a lifetime. Thanks to Sakie and the spirit of adventure, I was experiencing that which many will only ever read about in novels. I am a foriegner, living in Japan, a world completly different then my own, and I'm living here as passionatly as possible.
From Study Abroad: AIU


My time together with Sakie at Lake Tazawako was something that I'll never forget as long as I live. We both enjoyed ourselves so much, in fact, that we decided not to let it end when we left the hotel. But that, my dear reader, is the story of my text entry.

2 comments:

  1. Great story Abe! Glad the trip turned out so well. You guys make a cute couple. Be well! - Bill Cooper

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  2. Abe,
    It is so true what you say that many people will only experience the type of adventures you are having by reading about them.
    Choosing to live life passionately is what I believe most people dream of, but only a few truly have the courage to do. You are amongst those few! Cheers to making many more life time memories! Much Love, Auntie M

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