Day 18 - Aizu Wakamatsu

Trip Start Nov 03, 2005
Trip End Dec 07, 2005

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

This was the day we checked out Kitakata, a city famous for its 120 ramen shops and 200 odd traditional style warehouses.

On another topic, I've gotta say the Japanese drivers are the most considerate I've come across (UPDATE: outside Tokyo that is). Not one car can be heard honking its horn; and where else in the world can you find drivers who are backing out of their driveways, but go back in to let pedestrians walk by first. Back home they make you wait (pedestrians being at the bottom of the food chain). Also it impresses me to see cars that give you an extra wide berth, even when you're walking along the footpath. Nevermind that they could be driving into oncoming traffic.

Oh and another thing. I completely suck when it comes to navigating. I lose my bearings at just about every corner. If it weren't for Mike we probably wouldn't have got to half the places we'd been to. Though on a couple of occasions, my navigationally challengedness has brushed off onto Mike, and we ended up charging off in the wrong direction.

Back to Kitakata. Yamaguchi-san was kind enough to give us a lift in from the YH. Dave and I sat in the back of the car with his 1 year old grandson who was giving his lungs a good going throughout the whole trip. It soon occurred to us that to open our mouths to say something led to an outburst of crying and screaming. Probably seeing gaijin for the first time in his life was too much for him.

After thanking Yamaguchi-san we stopped by a store that was selling cheap kiriko (like the inaffordable cut-glass we saw in Kagoshima). We couldn't see any differences in terms of quality, but the prices were about 1/50 the price of that at Kagoshima's glass workshop.

The oba-san (old lady) there was really friendly and kept giving us free stuff (sake cups, good luck cats, and a bag full of persimmons). I was pretty impressed about the persimmons until I found out that there's a heavily laden persimmon tree every 100m in that town.

Feeling comparitively evil as we had no gifts to offer her, we headed towards some shops that sold SHIKKI, Japanese lacquerware. Kitakata is reknowned for producing lacquered plates, bowls, etc.

Lunch was at 'Kiichi', which was supposedly the No.1 ramen restaurant in Kitakata (there are two No.1's according to Yamaguchi-san. This one just happened to be open that day). I don't know whether it's because they mucked up our order and gave us 3 of the same dish (I was the only one that got what he ordered); or the fact that the cook was a young Frenchman who decided to try his hand at ramen and open up a shop of his own in the middle of a somewhat sleepy town - I thought the ramen was pretty ordinary.

Too much browsing DVD/game stores and not enough paying attention to when the trains for Aizu were leaving forced us to spend another 2 hours in Kitakata (trains are rather infrequent). We checked out a sake brewery which was a waste of time; but we had nothing else to do. All else I can remember in Kitakata was that Mike was really pissed off at Dave (fast becoming a daily ritual). Dave kept trying to make amends (being primarily responsible for dragging everyone to the DVD stores) like offering to pay 500 of a taxi fare for us. That was until we found out that a taxi to Aizu would be 5000. Even a bus ride was a bit high (800 per person).

So we cut the day's activities short (we had originally planned to cover Aizu's city centre as well).

Mike went for a walk around the area while Dave and I went in search (and didn't find)
of an onsen we were told about. He walked through the local school, and managed to disrupt a whole class when he walked past the window. At that time of year, Mike would most likely have been the only white guy in the whole prefecture, so it was probably a rare sight for the juniors.

For dinner we had okonomiyaki at the YH. CURRY OKONOMIYAKI (so good we ordered it twice), ebi (shrimp), and for a surpise we ordered the one called STAMINA OKONOMIYAKI (even after eating it, I still have no idea what was in it - Aquarius maybe?)

Mike and I were quickly emptying the bottle of Nigorizake between the two of us, when Yamaguchi-san asked us to join the table next to us. It was all of Yamaguchi-san's school/uni mates, a teacher and the school's headmaster. They were quick to hijack our bottle of nigorizake, but who could complain when we hadn't paid for it in the first place (original price 3500). Yamaguchi-san told the others with much glee that we'd come to Aizu Wakamatsu for the samurai festival, believing that is was on at this time. They all laughed, probably because very few gaijin would bother coming to Aizu at any other time.

What a raucous bunch (they'd obviously had a bit to drink). I remember one pocketed my railpass after we told them all how we had unlimited train travel for 21 days. The headmaster guy, Takahata-san was a pisser. When he said that he wanted to invite the 3 of us to his house for dinner, adding that his wife was KOWAII (scary), I exclaimed MAJIDE? (a crude form meaning something like 'Are you for real?'). In Japan, that's probably the last thing you'd say to a headmaster that is bestowing you the honour of a meal at his house (even if his wife is scary) - so that comment stirred up a bit of a reaction (a good one it seemed, since I was drunk and so were they, plus I had the gaijin immunity). After that comment, Takahata-san kept calling me MAJIDE-san. Then they all thought it was funny to keep calling Mike, Michael Jackson.

They were all impressed when I told them that my grandfather was a Japanese translator (omitting the fact that he translated for the Allied forces during WWII).

Once they'd left, we stayed back to help clean up (actually we just wanted to scab all that food that they'd left behind (a Kimchi hotpot). A big mistake it seemed since we all felt a little ill the next morning - nevermind that drinking that much sake would do the same anyway.

Yamaguchi-san tried to convey the message that dinners such as the one we'd shared with his friends were a rare occurance, and that we were very lucky. We asked him about the gaijin that had stayed at his place. He said that he got about 400 a year. It was quiet this time of year, as there was no festival (we found out the hard way). He had had visitors from Germany, France, Maui, South Africa, Congo, but no America. He said "America, No. DAME!" We were liking this guy more and more as the day went by.

Finally we had a chat with his son (the ceramics guy) so that he could practise his EIGO. No longer a snowboarder, he talked about free climbing - which sounds like a really cool thing to do in Japan (just make sure you've got gloves, not like those BAKA GAIJIN on Mt.Misen. I still have the scars).

Just remembered something. We were on the train, riding with all the school kids. Two boys pushed through us to get to the toilet and both entered. Mike joked that they were HOMODACHI (a slang corruption of the the word TOMODACHI, meaning friends). The girls behind us obviously caught the reference and shot Mike a look. They were in there having a smoke of course, but I can't imagine two Aussie guys getting into a toilet together on a crowded train, unless they wanted to declare to everyone that their friendship was a particularly close one.
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