Sukayu onsen, in the hills north of Lake Towada, is sometimes referred to as ‘the 1000 person bath’. A slight exaggeration I think but the hotel it is part of could certainly hold that many. It’s an old building of long creaky hallways and winding staircases creating a confusing labyrinth that makes following the receptionist’s directions very hard. In the end I asked for the kanji characters for ofuro and remembered seeing them on a sign upstairs somewhere. That evening a middle-aged lady and her younger protege were leading other women around the carpark in a circle. They were waving and clapping their hands in traditional ways with the guests picking up the moves quite quickly. I didn’t want to get involved but we did at least venture down in our yakata (thin cotton kimonos) and watched for over an hour. That hour by the way featured only one song, repeated a dozen times from some tinny stereo in the corner.
In Kakunodate the weather changed. Bright sunshine all day and I’m very grateful for the extra cherry flavoured ice-cream the vendor gave us. It’s all about the samurai district here. Big old wooden houses you can see right through when the walls/doors are pulled back. The district is very distinct, changing back to traffic lights and supermarkets by crossing one street.
Since the major building material of ancient Japan was wood large sections of history have been lost to fire. The temple complex at Hiraizumi, once a rival to Kyoto, suffered such a fate during fighting between ambitious warlords. One building that survived intact was the truly amazing Golden Hall (no photos allowed :( ).
We wandered around the paths for most of the morning and admired some of the smaller temples and the sutra room. When we came to leave town we got instructions about changing trains at Ichinoseki and confidently boarded the right train. Now I rarely appreciate being shouted at, unless it’s along the lines of “hey you forgot your wallet” or “get your free ice-cream right here!”. So to be shouted at from within arms reach, in a foreign language by someone who isn’t even angry at you is really not a good way to lighten my mood. Like us this guy, 50 something with buzz cut hair, a ruffled suit and a random collection of teeth, had missed the announcement that we were supposed to change trains at Kogota (that big earthquake has destroyed Japan’s always-on-time train schedule) so he’d also suddenly found himself watching the scenery move back to where it had been. I had been asleep, Tania has only been here a week, what was his excuse? I suspect he didn’t have one but he tried to argue his point with the train driver and station attendant until they left him and he tried venting in our direction. I quickly got tired of telling him I didn’t understand but he persisted. Getting louder and louder while waving angrily at the tracks. He tried the same act while sitting right next to a sweet looking old lady, somehow she soothed him a bit but it was still painfully loud two seats away.
Sendai’s tourist info room is awesome. As in I was awestruck that the girl in there had to ask a colleague where the pay-phones in her own train station were. It was right there on the map on her desk so I pointed them out and walked about 10m around the corner to make a call.