Posts tagged ‘sightseeing’

May 22, 2013

Lake Towada and Akita Adventure

A few weeks ago I received an message from Kimberly. She told me that one of the teachers at her school had invited her and a few ALT friends out to Lake Towada for some sightseeing.

Of course I said yes to that! I’d never really been to Lake Towada (only driven by it) and had always wanted to go. I don’t have a car here, so I am always relying on the kindness of people with cars who go places. Plus, who would turn down an opportunity to be chauffeured around by a Japanese person in Japan?

On Saturday, April 27th, Kimberly and I walked from our houses to her school, where her teacher was waiting for us. She had also invited our friend Evan, a fellow car-less ALT, and he was waiting for us there also.

We got on the road a little after 9am. Kimberly’s co-worker/teacher didn’t speak much English, but he tried very hard. Most times he would speak in Japanese and I would understand him, but other times not at all. That’s the way it goes! He even wrote down vocabulary words on a piece of paper. It was so cute. His name was F-sensei.

F-sensei explained that he likes to do this with ALTs once or twice a year for cultural exchange. He worries that ALTs just stay in Hirosaki (or their respective towns) and never see the sights of Aomori before returning to their home countries. This made sense, because Kimberly’s predecessor had never, according to Tori, done any sightseeing. They just stayed in Hirosaki every weekend and went to their church here. It’s a shame, really, because there are a lot of things to go and see elsewhere in Aomori.

The weather that day was pretty crappy, not going to lie. The rain had stopped for a bit in the morning, but there was no sun in sight. Clouds, clouds, clouds. As we drove up to the mountain, we were actually in a cloud. We walked across a large bridge overlooking a valley below.

We drove along the now-melted snow corridor on Mt. Hakkoda. Some of the walls were half the size they had been when I did the walk and onsen excursion. And yet, still impressive. It was a shame we could not see anything because of the clouds. I didn’t feel like taking too many pictures.

After passing through Mt. Hakkoda, we went down the switchback roads to Towada. We saw some old copper mines along the way. F-sensei told us that lots and lots of miners used to live in those parts. Now, most of the people are gone. But who knew there were so many copper deposits in northern Japan?

The drive through Hachimantai park along the Oirase stream was beautiful and featured many waterfalls. It reminded me so much of the drive along the Columbia River in Oregon.

When we got to Lake Towada, F-sensei asked us if we wanted to go to the other side by car or boat. By boat it would take an hour, by car 15 minutes. Even was really keen on the boat idea, so F-sensei just got out, ran over to the boat crew, and came back. He handed us all tickets for the ferry and told us to hurry since it was leaving soon. We rushed onto the boat and then realized that F-sensei would not be joining us. He would be staying with his car and driving.

We were all kind of amazed that he would pay for all of our tickets and then wait 45 minutes for us to arrive while we had the ferry experience. We felt kind of guilty. Going on the ferry was really fun despite the weather. It was cold and the visibility was terrible, but we were still able to enjoy the cruise very much.

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~My ticket~

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April 1, 2013

The Snow Corridor: Round 2

After last year’s awesome adventure to the snow corridor, I was really excited to go again this year. This year, the snow walls reached 8.1 meters high!

I remembered that before the road officially opens to road traffic on April 1st, they hold an annual Hakkoda Snow Corridor Walk & Onsen event. On March 30 and 31st, the road opened only to pedestrians for an 8km (5 mi) walk. You book a course from your city that costs 3,900 yen, which covers the coach bus fare (round-trip), the walk entry fee, and hot springs entry fee. This year would be the 23rd annual walk!

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And I did it!

I got up early on Sunday morning and was on the bus by 8am. We bussed up to the mountain and waited for all the other buses to arrive. I asked a couple girls to take my picture against the massive wall of snow. Yeah, it was huge.

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At 9:50am they held the “opening ceremony” where a person on the loudspeaker led everyone in stretches. They all shouted while counting the stretches: “One…Two…Three…Four…Five…Six…Seven…Eight…Hakkoda!” Group stretches/exercises are totally an Asian thing.

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August 20, 2012

Sendai, The City of Trees

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On my way home from the States, I had planned to stop over in Sendai for a couple days to see my friend Ayumi and break up my trip a little bit. I was really looking forward to seeing a new city!

So this was the plan: I would leave Austin on Thursday the 26th, arrive in Tokyo on Thursday, take a bus from Tokyo to Sendai (about 5.5 hours), and arrive at 10pm on Thursday night. I would spend Friday and Saturday in Sendai before bussing back to Hirosaki on Sunday morning. Before I left for Texas on July 11th, I bought both bus tickets and squared everything away. I was ready.

Anyone catch the huge glaring mistake in my plan?

Yeah, it was a pretty stupid one. I should have known better.

When you travel from Japan to the U.S., you are essentially “going back in time”. You arrive on the same day that you leave because the U.S. is behind Japan in time zones.

But when you go to Japan from the U.S., you lose a day traveling and arrive on the next day. So if I left Austin on Thursday, I would arrive on Friday in Japan.

I was still in Austin when the bus for Sendai left without me.

This meant that I was without a ride to Sendai on Friday night and that I had lost one of my days in Sendai. I was already  pretty stressed out at that point, so I kind of just threw my hands up in the air and decided to take the bullet train. Expensive, but it was the fastest way there. (And I don’t like buses anyways.)

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May 25, 2012

Kyoto Spring 2012: Day 4, Kyomizu, Kinkaku, Bicycles

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Tuesday, May 2, 2012

Aunt Jan and I left the guesthouse around 9:30am via… bicycle. Despite the fact that she had not ridden a bicycle with any regularity for 10 years (am I remembering that right?), I wanted to try it. I had always wanted to bicycle in Kyoto! I have my bike here in Hirosaki and even though it is a simple 1-speed bike, I feel free whenever I ride it. I was convinced that it would be faster to get places if we rented bikes, so Aunt Jan relented.

We started off slow and made our way to Kyomizu-dera (清水寺, Kyomizu Temple). We mistakenly walked our bikes all the way up the hill and then asked where the bicycle parking was once we got to the top. It turned out that there was no designated bicycle parking near the temple complex, but the guard told me where to stash our bikes (off to the side near some public bathrooms in the shade).

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As we were walking up to the temple, we noticed a procession of workers and monks carrying a huge THING wrapped in white sheet-like cloth. TV cameras, crew, reporters, the whole nine yards. Apparently it was a new buddha statue that was being installed in one of the halls. It was a bit of a mess, so it was probably a good thing that we did not enter at that time.

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Instead… I suggested we go down the road a bit and look at shops. I was actually feeling a little hungry from our bike ride and was craving some mochi samples. If you ever want to sample some famous Kyoto Yatsuhashi, Kyomizu Temple is the place to go. There is this one particular shop not far down from the temple that will give you a cup of tea and beckon you inside to try every single thing they sell. And I did. Multiple times. Ahem.

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April 16, 2012

The Snow Corridor

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Saturday April 14th was pretty much the most perfect day. The sun was shining, the delicious spring wind was blowing, and the threat of precipitation (rain OR snow) was nonexistent. Kyohei and I had planned to drive up to the mountain that day, so I felt like we were pretty darn lucky.

We had a late lunch at -Waraku- (where I forgot to take a picture of my lovely meal) and started driving around 2:30pm, I believe. We listened to Jimmy Eat World (among other things) along the way… “Bleed American” is one of my favorite albums ever. So we drove for a while to get up there. It took longer than one hour, but not more than two.

So what is the Snow Corridor of Aomori? Well, now that I’ve seen it… I think this thing is definitely a natural wonder. A man-made natural wonder.

National Route 103, also called the “Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line”, is closed during the winter months, but re-opens on April 1st every year. Apparently they plow this two-way road in such a way that when it is open, it feels like you are driving in between two huge walls of snow. They say that these walls can reach up to 9 meters/30 feet in height. They also open this road for walkers (no cars) for just two days every season. I think it might be kinda neat to walk along this road, but driving a car was super fun.

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When we got to the infamous road, I began to take a video. The video is a little long, but it was so amazing that I didn’t want to stop filming!

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