Sunday, June 24, 2007

Sendai and Matsushima

At the end of May we ventured south along the coast to the city of Sendai, a metropolitan area of about 1 million people. The first night we got there we ate at a sushi restaurant and tried the specialty of the area, gyu-tan (cow tongue...don't worry, it was cooked).
We spent the rest of that night and the next morning walking around the city. They were about to have a big parade, so there were a lot of neat floats, drums, and traditional costumes. If you follow the following link, it will play a traditional drum ensemble in action( As you can see in the pics, some of them were nice enough to pose for us.
The main reason we came to Sendai, however, was to view a professional baseball game. Baseball in Japan is just a little different than the States. First, the whole field (minus the mound and right around the bases) is AstroTurf. Next, in the States the seats behind home plate are the highly sought after ones...not the case in Japan...the most loyal and rowdy fans congregate in the outfield seats (left field for home, right field for visitors).
The fans in these corners have a chant or song for every batter in their line-up. This link will take you to a video I took of one such chant ( At the end of the video, you will here whistles being, those aren't the umps, they are special whistle blowers in the stands (see pic above). Anytime a foul ball is hit in your vicinity, it is up to these upstanding citizens to warn you of their approach.
Another interesting ritual occurs in the seventh inning. Before the stretch, most of the fans in the stands blow up these elongated balloons that end up being about 6 feet long. When the last out is made in the seventh inning, everyone releases their balloons and they fly 30-100 feet in the air!
Unfortunately, a home run was hit by an opposing team player, so many fans let theirs go prematurely...including Amy (fair weather fan!). Speaking of fair weather, after the final out we got poured on.

The next morning we took the train out to Matsushima. We then took a ferry ride through the bay to witness these stony outcroppings throughout the water. It is said that this collection of islets is one of the three most beautiful sites in Japan...I strongly disagree, but to each their own.
It was nice, though, and the town was charming. Our camera ran out of battery, so I don't have any pictures of that...DOH!

Hirosaki and the Cherry Blossoms

One of the more momentous times of the year in Japan is the few months the cherry blossoms bloom. The Japanese will actually plan months in advance to have cherry blossom parties in the parks and gardens where they are prevalent. They will set out there tarps, cook on their mini barbecue pit, and drink copious amounts of sake and beer. In our part of the country they appeared at the end of April, so we went to one of the most popular places to view them in Hirosaki.
Located about 2 hours drive due west of us, Hirosaki has a very large castle grounds with some nicely restored guard towers. The main attraction for us on this trip, however, were the cherry blossoms. The castle grounds boast over 2000 cherry blossom trees on the premises. You can also view Mt. Iwaki-san from the grounds. We plan on hiking to the top of this volcanic mountain later this summer.
The Japanese celebrate in this area with a large festival with numerous food booths, traditional drumming competitions, and the tarp parties which I previously mentioned. The cherry blossoms only hang around for a couple of weeks (if you're lucky), so we didn't have much of a window to go view them. The limited time frame means a lot of people and as many cameras.

Mt. Hakkoda Part II

Our last ski trip of the year was the first week in April to the famed mountain Hakkoda-san. On the way out was the first week the road we traveled was open, so it was like driving through a snow canyon.
Although there are only two marked ski paths on the mountain, many people like to go "exploring" the back country on this mountain. Amy and I aren't what you would call expert skiiers, so we stuck with the marked routes.

Even though Hakkoda-san is not as high in altitude as the Colorado Rockies, it receives in some cases more snow fall. What you see in this last picture are the tops of 30 ft trees plastered with they are dubbed Hakkoda Snow Monsters.