Today is bright and chilly but temperatures are to get up to 21C. We woke to the beat of the Drums and quickly went on deck. A group of talented artists provided a wonderful wake up with the Japanese drums. These kids are just wonderful. It usually takes 2 people for each “Large” drum as banging it with the 2 sticks takes a lot out of one
person, so they swap mid way. These drums make an awesome sound and we’ve tried to capture some of that on video.
After breakfast we headed out into the city. The city of Aomori owes its development to its unique position as a transportation and distribution hub for the north of Japan. With a population of only 290,000, Aomori is an attractive and modern city. It’s bordered on one side by the Hakkoda mountain range and on the other by the sea (and harbour). Aomori has mild weather throughout the year. In winter the average temperature is 2C and rarely does it fall as low as -10C. On the other hand, snow is so plentiful that the yearly snowfall continues to give city planners a challenge. Interesting to note, that many older buildings have very large logs tied on their roofs to breakup the falling snow. We’re here in Spring and the snow is gone but it would be so picturesque as it’s a charming city.
Facing Aomori on the opposite shore of the Tsugaru Straits is the city of Hakodate. If you recall my post on that day I made reference to the completion of the Seikan undersea tunnel (the longest such tunnel in the world), this has allowed the two cities to formally cement their relationship by becoming sister cities. Now these two cities on the Tsugaru Straits are beginning to establish themselves not only as leading winter cities, but also as international centers for information exchange, tourism, sport, culture and commerce.
Our first stop this morning was the ASPAM centre. It’s the city tourism and culture building. It’s shaped as a triangle and it’s truly a work of art. Outside are fountains with ornamental sea lions. Of course, water fountains are huge in this part of the world and Aomori doesn’t fail to present it’s water art form.
Aomori is a haven for artists and craft workers. Native son Munkato Shiko was a celebrated 20th Century woodblock artist and his detailed prints are the focus at the Munkata Memorial Museum.
There’s some amazing architecture and we’ve photographed most of it, I think :-). We stumble upon a fish market. We’re passing this very high end department store and see people coming from an underground door, so typical to form we investigate. It’s a fascinating place, selling all sorts of fish (dried, cooked, raw, pickled etc). Each morning this fish market is set up to provide fresh fish daily to the residents of the city and those from out of town who know its there.
We purchased some dried salmon to snack on in our cabin and of course Gerrit spies a local stall – so we have lunch (after all it’s almost noon :-). It’s the type of place where the locals come to for takeaway lunch or bring home dinner. We order a tray meal for a cost of 480 yen or $5 Canadian. We get fried fish (head and tail was cut off); the largest sardines I’ve ever seen in my life (fried and yummy); rice, marinated tofu with spice – yummier; shrimp in a spicy sauce – yummiest; green beans with squid; squid and fried egg with nuts and something else I can’t remember now (we had 4 dishes with each fish – so a total of 8 dishes and the fried fish and sardines. It was so funny having all the locals see if you’re going to eat it or not. There wasn’t much left on any tray once we were finished.
After as we walked around we noticed a woman dissecting a type of bulbous fish. It’s a delicacy – we couldn’t make out the name and we tried hard to converse with one gentleman who spoke limited English. He thought it was funny that we were interested. He spoke to the lady and she cut one open, cleaned it out and handed it to us. He said it was like eating an oyster but that didn’t convince us. For once we begged off trying something new.
Of course, we purchased more goodies to take home – me thinks another suitcase purchase is coming up :-).
All over the city were signs welcoming MS Volendam passengers to the city. In one little store Gerrit found another kitchen knife – this one was 20% off (thank goodness – again a special knife). This time going through security back on board he just handed the parcelled knife to the security guard. That reminds me, each and every time we’ve purchased something it’s wrapped up so beautifully, and presented in a gorgeous carry bag. Unfortunately we can’t bring all these back with us as space and weight will be an issue for us once we start to pack. But it really does make the purchase appear special.
The artist passion is evident all over the city and it’s a maze of craft shops. Another store had everything you’d ever need for rice table. Wonderfully hand painted plates, bowls, rice cups, chop sticks etc. The prices were remarkably low but weight was becoming a factor in any purchases made between now and Vancouver. We did however, purchase a hand blown sake holder and 2 hand made little glass bowls. I see a bit of sake drinking coming up 🙂
On our way back to the port we were enticed into partaking in a tea ceremony. It was fascinating to watch these lovely women dressed in Kimono’s, each one very different from the other. These Kimono’s were original and not the reproduced type sold now in stores. The prices are around CA$200,000. Cheaper versions can be purchased for between CA$8-20,000. The tea ceremony is a very special occasion and treated with reverence. The tea cup (or bowl) is presented by 2 hands with a small wooden whisk, similar to a mans shaving brush. The powdered tea and hot water is whisked quickly until bubbles form. Then the cup or bowl is turned clockwise and the cup is lifted to the mouth with only one hand underneath the bowl. The whole ceremony lasts about 3 minutes and is intense. It was wonderful to have partaken this in traditional ceremony. Gert asks about the powdered tea and is offered some as a present. The hospitality and generosity is wonderful.
A kindergarten class of drum players performed for us and we have video to share on our return. There was also an older group of performers and it was just amazing the sound created. It was quite emotional leaving this side of the world. We’ll definitely be back!!
Leaving Japan was sad. It marks 6 days at sea and our continued journey into Alaska. We have very fond memories of our trip last June to Alaska and wonder if we’ll notice any changes.
We move our clocks ahead 2 hours tonight – ugh. And then 1 hour forward for the next 5 days. However on May 11th we have May 11th (Day 1) and May 11th (Day 2). We gain an additional day as we cross the International date line.