Kites. I was promised kites. And, in turn, I promised others kites. So it happened that four of us made the long 3 hour trek up to Aomori City, on the north tip of Honshu last Saturday with a song in our hearts and a gleam in our eyes. So what if the weather was grey and unambiguously wintery? Surely this would highlight spectacular dragons and whatnot flying through the sky. However, when we arrived in Aomori, we all noticed right away that the city, while windy, was spectacularly lacking in wind powered aircraft. Crap.
Kite festivities would not begin, we were informed at the information desk, until tomorrow. Stupid internet and its empty promises. We then sat down to regroup and figure out how to salvage a day in (let’s be generous) a mildly interesting city in the dead of winter. Step 1? Drown your sorrows by taking refuge in the closest Thai/Vietnamese/New York themed restaurant you can find.
When we heard of a little lunch spot called Saigon that purported to have Thai food, we knew something had to be up. Not picky about the geographic consistency of their menu, Saigon offers samosas, bagels, Greek salads, and Hawaiian beer with aplomb. This met my basic criteria for excitement in Tohoku: just feed me food I can’t get in Noshiro.
After lunch, we went in search of a big Buddha at the nearby Blue-Green Dragon Temple. I have to say, he bested the kites in that he a) existed and b) lived up to the hype. The temple complex had quite a bit to see. Shrines for the old and forgetful, shines for children. Even lots of bells to ring to alert the almighty to your prayers, which Frank will now graciously demonstrate below:
After we’d photographed every subject in the shrine from every possible angle, we went to check out Aomori’s archaeological claim to fame, the Sannai-maruyama site, where you can view artifacts from the Jomon period. I have to say, as the afternoon went from gray to grayer, I wasn’t very excited about going to see a muddy field with a few thatched huts and a huge glorified ladder. But my mind was set, I had to see it. It was one of those “if I see it now I don’t have to come back to see it later” kind of deals. But, the huts turned out to be surprisingly photogenic and even kind of interesting.
Still. I wouldn’t drive 3 hours just for the pleasure.
We concluded our trip to Aomori with a quick onsen visit. For those of you who are still a little fuzzy on onsen etiquette, here’s a charming graphic for you which illustrates the big no-nos. Please provide your own captions:
There is, however, a rule which isn’t shown above which was enforced by this particular onsen: bring your own soap. Little did we know. I mean, it’s not like this was the first onsen trip for any of us. We thought we knew we knew how to play by the rules, honest.
On the women’s side, the showers were packed to capacity, and I only hesitated for a moment when I sat down to wash up at a seemingly empty spot and noticed that the shampoo bottles at each shower were different. Not what you would expect for onsen-provided items. But never-mind! I ignore lots of stuff that seems strange to me here and chalk it up to the Japanese way. While everyone took my lack of manners in using their belongings gracefully (thanks for the shampoo, whoever you are!), the boys weren’t so lucky. When they sat down to wash up (so I’m told), they elicited a vicious growl from whomever’s territory they’d intruded upon. One of those “maybe-I-look-demure-but-never-forget-this-is-the-land-of-samurai-
and-ass-kicking-ninjas-so-back-the-hell-off” kind of interactions.
Yikes. So much for internationalization.