August 26th 2007

We woke up around 8am and headed to Morioka station where we picked up some maps that the Tourist Information Center had of Kakunodate and took the train to our destination. We arrived nearly an hour later and started our walk around the old samurai town.

From the station if you head down the hill towards the actual city the collection of samurai era houses are on your right. Ryan and I mistakenly walked the long way around but we got to see a great view of the countryside that we would have otherwise not seen. There is a specific street that has the majority of the old buildings that the samurai used to live in. It was walking through a hole in time. The smells and the sites make you think of a time when everyone walked in their wooden sandals (geta) carrying packages of rice on their backs, with a sword at their belt.

You are able to walk around the outside of most of the houses and some you can go inside as well. There was one of the houses that had been converted into a museum of different armors and tools used back in the feudal era which you have to pay a small sum, but it is definitely worth it. We walked inside the Ishiguro House, which is said to be the oldest and the home of the highest class samurai family. On the English sign outside of the residence it says that a direct descendant of the samurai family gives the tour of the house, which is very large and certainly impressive. We spent around 3 or 4 hours walking through the town before we headed back to Morioka for the last leg of our journey.

We took the shinkansen from Morioka back to Ueno and made our way to take the Tsukuba Express to meet Lower in current place of residence. We arrived around 6pm, transferred our things to his apartment and then headed back into town to attend the Tsukuba Matsuri.

For the festival they had closed some of the main streets from traffic and had extremely elaborate floats running through the streets. It was exactly how you would picture a Japanese festival with people lifting a large wooden shrine on their shoulders, taiko drums playing loudly and people singing and chanting old songs. It was an amazing experience. We spent the night watching the festivities and walking through the small shops selling festival food (yakitori, takoyaki, some even selling hot dogs) and trinkets. It was a great time and if you ever get the chance to attend a summer matsuri, I highly recommend it!!

We settled in for the last night of our trip in Lower’s apartment readying ending Ryan’s last full day of Japan and my last day before travelling to Hirakata to attend university. In my next post I will tell you how to use the JR East Pass, and the shinkansen, because we found out in the latter half of our travels in Tohoku that at first we were doing it totally wrong, so until then!

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August 17, 2007

In the morning we woke up relatively early, ate at a standing soba and udon shop aptly named SobaUdon, and headedThe palace over to the Imperial Palace in central Tokyo. We got there, took some nice pictures and were about to go into the park (Koen in Japanese) to the North of the palace which contains a few museums and other neat stuff, because the palace itself is only open two days a year to the public, but promptly found out it was closed on Mondays and Fridays. Kind of disappointed we walked a little South to Hibiya Koen.

It was extremely hot (35 C/95F) and the humidity made it feel worse so we bought some popsicles at a stand and walked into the park to find about 18 young people dressed in kimonos pracLower displaying the sake at nihonshu jouhoukanticing a traditional looking dance. Ryan Lower, the English teacher from now on referred to as Lower, asked someone standing around what the youths were practicing for and we found out that there was a matsuri (festival in English) going on that night from 6pm to 9pm. Something to note: Lower and myself combined have about a 3rd grader’s skill in the Japanese language, maybe less, but both of us can pretty much get across what we mean to say. From there we headed a little farther South into Hibiya to a place called Nihonshu Jouhoukan (Japanese Sake Information Pavilion, or at least that’s what Lonely Planet translates it to) where we did tasting of 15 different sake. 520 yen to try 5 different sake. It was amazing, I will be posting what we thought of them at a later date. Walking out quite buzzed we headed to Ebisu to the Beer Museum, the next logical point of interest.

The museum was entertaining, unfortunately it was all in Japanese so we couldn’t read it. There was an awesome animation, well more accurately it was live action characters superimposed onto a diorama. Apparently the history of making beer involves both a beer fairy and a beer devil, we couldn’t understand more of the animation because it was in Japanese, none the less my life was fulfilled knowing that the beer fairy exists. We then proceeded down to an area where we tasted 4 different beers of Yebisu and Sapporo for 400 yen. I liked the Yebisu Black which was a dark beer and the Sapporo pale ale.

After we finished up in Ebisu we headed over to the matsuri in Hibiya Koen. It was very amusing I will let the pictures and the videos tell the story of the matsuri when they get online.

Click on one of the photos to be brought to my flickr where you can view the rest. I tried takoyaki (balls of dough with octopus inside) for the first time, and it was delicious. There was a really nice police man who, when I said that I was tired in Japanese (out of reflex), massaged my neck then took one of our fans and started fanning us for a couple of minutes (there’s a picture of that in my flickr). *sigh* If only cops were like that in the US we might have more respect for them. Overall we had a great night at the matsuri, we then proceeded to venture out to find dinner in the area. After dinner we went back to the Ryokan. Extremely tired, we crashed.

I was planning to post both Day 3 and along with the podcast tonight but after another full day of traveling in Tokyo I’m tired as hell and even writing this took great effort. I think we might redo the podcast as well so we’ll see what happens with that. The pictures will be are up as soon as flickr updates my account to a pro account and the videos will be up that we have taken thus far shortly as well. Tomorrow I will write about Day 3 and I think I’ll have the podcast up as well, no guarantees though ^_^ until then!