It's been approximately a month since the first earthquakes hit, so I figure it's time for an update.

After I posted that last entry, I spent most of my time with some other ALTs and stayed the night at another's apartment because the building next to mine had some structural damage that forced the residents to move out and made me nervous. Things with the plant were still looking really bad, so five of us decided to make the trek to Tokyo.

Because the trains and buses were down, this was much more difficult that usual. A normal trip cost about $25 and took about 2.5 hours. This trip took much long and was much more expensive. The five of us split two taxis to Mito, which is normally a 30 minute train ride for 470 yen ($5), and was instead 10,000 yen ($100) and an hour ride. From Mito, we took a bus to Tsukuba (another 2 hours or so and 1,000 yen ($10)), then the train from Tsukuba to Tokyo (I think 1160 yen ($12)). However, the trains are only running at half capacity, so we had to wait 3 hours for them to start running. But eventually we made it into Asakusa, where we got a hostel and enjoyed running water for the first time in several days.

Wednesday we spent around Tokyo, mostly in Shibuya and Roppongi and met up with everyone else who fled Ibaraki. Thursday we tried going to the American Embassy, but that ended up being kind of pointless because we didn't really have a reason to go. Friday I spent on my own because I needed a quiet day, so I visited a couple different gardens and watched a street performer in Ueno park. Saturday I met back up with a few people still left in Tokyo, but we ended up going our separate ways and I spent the rest of day in Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine.

By Sunday, the buses were mostly up and running, so I could take a highway bus directly from Tokyo Station to Hitachi for about $25, so I decided to head back to my apartment and start packing up because I had a week before I was leaving the country.

That week was spent packing or throwing away everything I own, closing my postal account, making final payments, sending stuff back to the US, and various other errands completely on my own. I was only able to go to my school for a short time to pack up my things and say a brief goodbye to my teachers. I didn't get to say goodbye to any students, which I'm still very sad about.

But somehow I made it to the airport with my bags (which was a whole other adventure in and of itself), and after a short side-trip to Chicago, arrived back in Kansas City.

I've been back a few weeks now, trying to get over jet lag and some culture shock, and in about a week and a half I'm moving again to Utah to try to find a job there. Meanwhile, I'm still tying up loose ends from Japan (I have yet to receive two of my paychecks). And of course, just keep up with what's going on in Japan and with the people I know who are still there.
Friday afternoon, I was sitting in the teacher's room, reading and waiting for the day to end so I could head home. There were no classes in the afternoon because kids were getting ready for the school's 50th Anniversary Ceremony the next day.

At about 2:45, the ground began to shake. It was just a small rumble, not uncommon in Japan. But then it suddenly got a lot bigger, like turbulence inside a big plane, but on the ground. There were only about 5 or 6 of us in the room at the time, and someone turned on the news, but the power was cut almost instantly. The shaking continued for a long time, but wasn't severe enough to evacuate. Then it finally stopped, and a few teachers came running back in for information, while those already there began to clean up. The teacher who sits behind me apologized for her papers falling all over.

Then the second earthquake hit, much stronger and faster than the first. The vice principal announced over the PA system to get out, and the other ALT and I followed the other teachers outside.

The Homeroom teachers each lead their classes outside where we all convened in front of the school. I remember worrying about my shoes, because we wear different ones inside to keep the school clean. But everyone ran out into the dirt and mud in their indoor shoes. (The front of our school is undergoing construction - our new school building was just completed in January.)

Students were either crying and scared, or thought the whole thing was a joke and a great break from working. These were all 1st and 2nd year junior high school students, so about 13 and 14 years old.

We wait there for a long time, and the shaking stops, but aftershocks hit every five minutes or so. Soon, the VP decides to move the students a little further away from the building. We move to where the track would be, and it's pretty much the safest place in the area, as it's high in the mountain, away from the beach, and in an open area thanks to construction.

It's cold though, and we didn't have time to grab coats or anything. I had grabbed my phone, but that was it, and that was near useless since my prepaid plan had expired the day before. I was planning to buy more minutes that night. But with the chill, it was sometimes hard to tell if you were shaking from the cold or from the ground.

We waited outside for maybe an hour and a half. I entertained some kids and distracted myself by talking to them in Japanese, which they still find fascinating. I was also translating as much as I could to the other ALT, who speaks almost no Japanese at all.

Around 4:30 or so, they decided to send everyone home, because there was nothing more that could be done, and they wanted the kids to be with their families. We got sent home too, and went back in the building to quickly grab our things and go.

On the way home, I saw a few downed garden stone walls, and some damages shingles that had fallen or broken glass, but that was about it. Once I got home, I went inside for a moment, but the aftershocks were still really strong at that point, so I went back out to my parking lot to wait, which was a fairly safe place to be. I tried to go to a friend's place, but I only knew the building and couldn't find the apartment.

Eventually, it got to be too cold and it didn't look like the aftershocks were going to stop. So I went back inside. Friday night was the worst night. There was no power, heat, or water. My dishes and things had fallen out of the cabinet and shattered, and my room was a complete mess.

My phone died almost right away, because of no battery power. My kindle had a bit of power left, and I used my still-chaged computer to charge the kindle's battery as much as possible, but then I could email and use twitter to let people know I was alive.

That night, I spent huddled in bed, with my coat on and my bag and shoes right next to me. I didn't sleep well at all.

Saturday, I woke with the sun, and even though the sun rises at about 5am, it sets at about 6pm, so I needed to use the daylight as best I could. I tried to find my friend's place again, but failed, and decided to try to get some more food, drink, and information.

Power was still out, but some stores were selling goods by hand. The market I went to let people in 30 at a time, tallied totals by hand with managers naming prices. Most everything sold for normal prices, if not cheaper. People were polite and patient and very kind. Store workers still shouted "Welcome" and "Thank you for shopping with us." While I was waiting in line, someone came around with newspapers, and I was able to get a first look at what happened in Sendai and Tokyo, as well as a little more information on the quakes themselves. I could check CNN on my kindle, but only for a short time, and couldn't get too much info.

The rest of the day was spent looking at damage, and that was about it. The most I really saw were the walls and damages roofs. I couldn't get in touch with anyone else. Saturday night wasn't as bad as Friday, but it wasn't fun either. Aftershocks still shook my apartment.

Early Sunday a couple other ALTs found me at my apartment and let me know where everyone was gathering. I made plans to meet up with them later. Until then, I went down to the beach to see the damage from the tsunami. We only got about 2m, and most of the city is up on a cliff, so there was no damage to houses. Just a few boats overturned or sunk.

Sunday night we were all together, which was a welcome change. The power came back on, too, after 54 hours, so were could recharge everything and get in touch with people and get more information. We thought we got water back, but that seemed to be a bit a of a fluke.

So now it's Monday. I went to the store again today and bought more food and water, and have been trying to get more information, though it's been very hard. My biggest concern now is the 70% chance of another magnitude 7 earthquake closer to Ibaraki than before that might happen in the next few days. Also the nuclear reactors. The ones in Fukushima are about 100km / 50mi away, so I'm not in the evacuation zone, but there is another plant in Tokai, which is only 15km away. It's supposedly stable right now, but another quake could be bad.I knew several people who have gone to Mito or even Tokyo. The trains aren't running right now, though, so it's difficult to go anywhere.

Right now, all I can really do is wait. There are still aftershocks going on.
Yes, I know it's been awhile. Once again, sorry for the gap.

So Saturday was Parents Day / Observation Day. Since so many parents work during the week, the school holds classes on Saturday and has a holiday the following Monday to make up for it.

What this means for me is I have a 6 day work week, ending with a bunch of people watching me embarrass myself.

I actually wasn't that worried about it in the beginning. A few parents would come watch, and I would do the same lesson I'd done the day before with a different 2nd grade class. It was an easy small group activity, so most of the pressure was on the Japanese teacher.

However, I get moved to work with a first grade class instead. And I'm going to be the main teacher for the majority of the lesson. Surprise!

First period, I have a class (unobserved - people don't come until about 4th period) with the first grade JT, and he models the lesson for me, using almost all English so that I'll be able to do the same thing (I'm not really supposed to use Japanese with my classes, except for vocab). I take a few notes, and the lesson isn't a hard one because it's all things the class is used to doing normally, so I'm not really that nervous.

Then I learn that 15 English teachers from different schools and different parts of the prefecture were coming, too.

Then, just before the observation period, I saw the never-ending stream of parents and siblings enter the school.

Then I got nervous.

I should maybe clarify here that my role in classes is usually very much the assistant teacher. The only time I'm leading an activity is for vocab flashcards, and reading practice. The rest of the time, the JT does his thing, occasionally asking me to pronounce something, or answer a question to demonstrate the grammar. Very minimal thinking on my part.

But when there are visitors, the school wants to show off. So class becomes just that much more difficult.

I had about twenty people watching my class at any given time. Parents could move from class to class if they wanted (and did, because watching a kid take notes is boring, no matter if it's your kid or not). Our rooms are a little bit different from normal classrooms, because there's a work area to the side with lots of open space, and the whole room is open to the hallway, which is open to the class next door, and so on. So people just stood pretty much wherever they wanted on the whole left side, with a few people against the back wall. Mostly the English teacher visitors.

The class starts well with our warm-ups. The kids know what to do, they've been well-trained. I'm fairly optimistic. And most of the rest of the class actually does go well, minus the part where a gust of wind from the open window blows paper all over. And the guy in the back of the room with a video camera at hip level. But, like I said, I end up being the main teacher for almost the entire class. The only thing my JT officially does is the grammar point and note-taking for the last ten minutes or so. He even commented afterward that I did all the work, and apologized many times for not giving me more notice and for pretty much everything in general, because he's Japanese and he's polite, haha.

After class is over, we go back to the teacher's room for a bit of a breather before the final class of the day (which is back to normal), and parents and everyone are supposed to leave then, though a lot of people just sort of hang around in the main hall. We got our new school building in January, so a lot of parents wanted to look around it (it's a really nice building). On the way to class, the other ALT and I were greeted by a handful of the English teaching visitors, one of which bowed really low, which was embarrassing, but hopefully a good sign. They were all very nice.

After school, the teachers will meet with the visitors and parents in a meeting at another building to discuss various things. And then there's a drinking party, where the parents drink enough to really let the teachers know what they thought. The second grade JT always tells me how much she doesn't want to go, but she wants to improve her teaching (and it's mandatory) so she goes. The ALTs aren't invited. Instead, I went home and took a nap. :)

And that was my Saturday.
I know it's been three months since I posted. I'm sorry. I didn't really know how to follow up climbing Mt. Fuji, so I just kept putting it off. This post still won't really measure up to the last, but at least it's something, right? I'll try to keep a more regular schedule, too, from here on.

Sunday night, my throat started hurting. I figured it would go away, and tried to ignore it as best I could, but didn't get much sleep.

I woke up and it was still hurting, but I went to school anything, thinking it would go away. I get a little under the weather all the time, and I thought this would be the same. Sooo not the case. I maintain that the 35 min walk is what did me in, but I went to class, and started feeling really dizzy. I was in the back of the classroom while the JTE was scolding kids in the hallway and leaned on the cabinets. I felt really faint and my ears started ringing and my vision blacked out a little, and then I threw up a little. Well. That decided that. I went out to the hallway and told my JTE I was feeling sick, so he looked concerned and told me to go to the teacher's room.

I went to the bathroom first to clean my hands and mouth and just sort of hang on to the sink. Then I went to my desk and explained what happened to the other ALT, since she didn't have class. My JTE came back a little later and asked what happened and told me not to worry. He called Interac, who called me and told me I should probably go home. They asked if I wanted to go to the clinic, but I said no, because I figured it would pass and I just needed to sleep it off. And I just don't like going to doctors.

Well then the branch head called and said I really should go to the clinic to make sure it's not anything serious. So I can't really argue with him, and tell him I'll go. The other English teachers come talk to me, along with the nurse, and the vice principal and tell me to just rest and go home and not to worry about classes. And if I need to take the next day off, to please do and not worry.

About 20 minutes later, an IC (someone from Interac who helps translate and takes employees places) came to pick me up. First stop is the clinic which is actually fairly near my apartment. It's about halfway between my school and my apartment.

It's just a walk-in clinic, I think, so my IC gave them my Health Card and we got a number. We waited maybe 20 minutes, which I didn't think was that bad. Once that was over, we went into this a small curtained off room, and there was like 5 nurses just kind of hovering. I have no idea why half of them were there. Also, they didn't wear scrubs, but the skirt, stockings and little hat combo that women wore in the 50s in the US.

Anyway, the doctor didn't really speak English, and my IC didn't really know medical terms, so that part was fun. She had her dictionary, so we basically got things figured out. The doctor just asked a few basic questions and poked at my stomach and looked at my throat and decided I just had a cold. I didn't have a fever. He prescribed me some medicine and that was pretty much it.

The visit cost 1070 yen and the medicine cost 380 yen (roughly about $11 and $4). I have to take it three times a day before each meal for the next three days. It's just a tiny pill, so it's not bad. I have no idea what it actually is.

After that, my IC was nice enough to take me to the grocery store because I have no food at my apartment. Then she took me home, and I fell asleep watching some dorama.

I ended up sleeping most of the day and then this morning, I was still feeling not so great, so I called in. I had hoped to recover enough by the end of the day to go in to Mito to get my re-entry visa for when I leave the country in a month, but I somehow fell asleep and stayed asleep all day.

I'm feeling mostly better now, though my throat still aches a little and I'm kind of drowsy. I'll head back to school tomorrow, and hopefully make it through the day in one piece.
I'm not entirely sure how I did it, but I climbed to the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Our journey began early Friday morning. I take the first train out of Hitachi (5:12am) and meet up with four other climbers. We have to take a long series of trains and one bus to get to the 5th station where we'll start our climb, but we we finally make it early in the afternoon.

We spend some time at the 5th station, adjusting to the altitude (7,500 ft) and getting some lunch. We're climbing up the Yoshida trail, and started in Kawaguchiko. It's really important to know which 5th station you're starting from, because there are several around the mountain (and our trail split partway down). This station is the most popular because there's lots of parking available, and the trail has quite of few huts to rest in compared to the other trails.
We started climbing around 3pm and the trip to the 6th station is pretty easy. And it would have been a lot easier if we'd been better prepared. It started to rain on us, and two people in our group didn't have any rain gear. We were close enough to the 5th station, that the two guys volunteered to go back to buy rain jackets, and thankfully, that worked out just fine. We have a rockslide shelter to hide out in until they got back, so we stayed dry. And of course, the rain stopped as soon as they returned. But, I still got a cool jacket out of the deal, and the extra layer was good to have later.

After the 6th station, though, the trail got much more difficult, and much rockier. I very quickly became very glad I'd gotten a walking stick, because that extra balance was essential to not falling down and having an extra boost up the rocks. When we finally made it to the seventh station, I was disappointed to find out that there were actually several 7th stations, which made it kind feel like we weren't making any progress, and the sun was starting to set.

So we got our flashlights/headlamps and pressed on. Hiking through the 7th stations was soooo difficult. I was having a lot of trouble getting enough oxygen thanks to the altitude, plus I'd been up since about 1:30am, so I had to stop to rest a lot. Plus the trail itself was extremely difficult. It was legitimate mountain climbing. There were times when I was using all four limbs or climbing up on my knees just to move forward. Plus it was in the dark, and my lamp wasn't all that bright. I could see and I wasn't going to fall of the side of the mountain, but it was hard to move forward.

Then, we finally reached the 8th station. Or, as before, the first 8th station. This part was the worst, because we had a hut reservation in one of the 8th station huts, but we weren't sure where ours was on the trail. So we'd reach one station only to find out that it wasn't it and we had to keep climbing. At one point, I had to stop to get food (really gross cup noodles) because I was so exhausted. But by this time, it was somewhere around 9pm, and we really needed to get to our hut so we could get some rest before continuing the next day. So again, we pressed on.

Somewhere between 10 and 10:30, we finally reached our hut. And there was much rejoicing.
The hut is basically a building with two rooms. The first room is kind of like a dining area with a few long tables and food and drink you can buy at 5 times their regular price. The second room is where we sleep. It's divided into section with curtains for doors and room enough for 6 sleeping bags side by side. And that's it. And they're bunk bed style, so you can't stand up in them. However, we we lucky enough to have our group of 5 all get the same section, so we were at least sleeping next to people we knew. And really, I was perfectly content. I just wanted to sleep.

Wake-up call was at about 1:30, though me and one other member of our group stayed in bed a little longer because we were still so tired. We ended up leaving around 2 and were the last to leave the hut. Usually, it should take about an hour to get from our station to the summit, which would be plenty of time to catch the 4:30am sunrise. However, the trail was completely packed and moved very slowly. Plus, I was still pretty tired and not getting all the oxygen I would have liked.

I was still just below the summit when the sun came up, but I climbed off the trail a little to sit and watch it and take a few pictures. It was seriously so beautiful. There are a few more pictures in my photostream to the right, but my camera really couldn't capture it. We could see two lakes, one of which was turned a gorgeous crimson.
Once the sun was mostly up (and my batteries were pretty much dead), I finished the climb. I reached the summit at about 5:30am. There's actually quite a bit up there. There's a shrine and some little shops to get food and drink, plus the crater to go see. That crater is incredible and really kind of scary to look into. Our group got a group photo in front of it and spent some time look around and just basking in our success before heading back down. And it really wasn't that cold, I thought. I had a t-shirt, zip-up hoodie, sweatshirt, and my vinyl jacket, with some sweats and gloves, and I was perfectly comfortable. I took my gloves off at times for pictures, and was still good. We really lucked out with the weather, because it was perfectly clear, too. It was gorgeous.

Then we headed back down around 7:30, I think. The way down is completely different from the way up. For one, it's all dirt and dust and switchbacks. There's nothing really to see and it's pretty boring, compared to the epic adventure on the way up. Plus, the dust kept getting in my eyes, making it really difficult for me to see anything at all. Eventually, I rigged my hood, sunglasses, and bandana for some relief, but it was still pretty slow going for me. Plus I ran out of water, and there's no place to buy any on the trail. So I'm pretty sure I got pretty dehydrated. It was really slow going for me.

But finally, I made it back to the 5th station around 12:30. I downed three bottles of Aquarius, and got some food and souvenirs, and then we were back on the bus. I made it back to my apartment around 10pm, completely exhausted. I'm pretty sure I peeled off skin when I removed my socks, and I have a serious blister on the side of my right heel. And it's Tuesday morning, and I'm only just regaining the ability to climb in and out of bed and up and down steps without seriously soreness and aching in my legs.

But, it was worth it. I can say I climbed Mt. Fuji and survived. Tomorrow, I go back to school, and I certainly ended my summer with a bang.
So we left off with me in Yokote after seeing the Akita Kanto Festival with all the lanterns.


Day Four started off badly. I didn't set my alarm the night before, because I'd been naturally waking up around 6 everyday and wasn't in any hurry. However, I was apparently exhausted, because I woke up at 10:03. Check-out was at 10. This was not good.

So I scrambled to get ready and gather all my belongings and managed to check out about 10:20. Thankfully, they didn't charge me for a late check-out and I was on my way.

I had a couple hours before the next train left for Sendai, so I just walked to the station. It was soooo hot. Thankfully, the station wasn't really that far, and it was a straight shot from the hotel, with a minor detail to get to the entrance on the other side. I waited inside where it was a little bit cooler until my train came.

The trip to Sendai was mostly uneventful. I say mostly because this is the leg where I met the man who loves American. He got really excited and sat across from me and wanted to talk and talk and talk. Then he saw my camera and told me about a really cool scenic spot coming up that I HAD to take a picture of. As in, I had to get up and stand by the door so I could get a good shot out the window.

He was really impressed that I was able to get a shot (though I cheated and did a video) and said that 99% of people can't get it. So, go me. Then of course, he had to take a picture with me, and of me with his cell phone. Oh and he gave me the weirdest compliment - he said my face was pretty because it was round, unlike Japanese faces which are flat.

When I reached Sendai, I actually only had a few hours because I was staying with Jul, who lived about another 45 minutes away. While in Sendai, I scouted out the area a bit, and grabbed some lunch.

The station was huge, but there was an information stand set up for visitors coming for the festival. Some school girls came up to me to ask if I needed help in English, and we chatted for a bit. They were way cute and impressed with my Japanese.

Eventually, the time came to head to Hebita and meet up with Jul. Her husband Josh met me at the tiniest station ever and we walked back to their place. We had a nice dinner and I got to steal their electricity and recharge everything. And their daughter is absolutely adorable.


The next day we head back to Sendai. After discovering that every locker in that huge station was already taken, I suggested to try my hotel and see if they'd hold my stuff until I could check in. And success! I could. So relieved of my bags, we were free to go look at the decorations.

There's a huge shopping street, that was completely filled with these things, and crammed full of people shopping and taking pictures.

We look around for a bit before their daughter (who is about 14 months old, I think?) passes out and they decide to call it a day. We get lunch at this cute little cafe, and then we head back to the station.

After I say goodbye, I can check-in to my hotel, so I do that and just kind of chill in the air conditioning for awhile, because once again it is reeeally hot outside.

When I finally do venture back outside, it's a little bit later, and it's because there are mascots that I can see from my window and I want a picture.

Also because it took me some time to get dressed, haha. Now, I'm pretty sure I Gaijin Smashed my way into this picture. I'm fairly sure now that the assistant was announcing that no more people can get in line because time is up, but I stood in line anyway. Because he was using polite words I didn't know because they're long and I wanted a picture. But I figured it out when no one else got in line and I heard 'ah, owari?' which is just, 'ah, it's over?' But still, it was worth it.

I took a couple pictures in the station, too, and then I changed back into normal clothes, because it was hot and yukata are hard to move in. I only wore it because it was a festival and pretty much every female under the age of 30 was wearing one.

Anyway, it was back to the festival and I found the stage where there were some performers.

In addition to this awesome fan dance, they had the most unusual band festival I've ever seen. Basically, a different band stands and performs every 50 feet or so, then rotate after a couple minute performance. It was really interesting, but soooo loud and difficult to hear. One group was a high school band doing High School Musical, no lie.

After all that was over, I head back to the hotel. I picked up some food at a conbini and was promptly annoyed I did so because food booths were all over the place on the streets back. They had awesome foods like yakitori or oknomiyaki. I went ahead and bought a chocolate crepe regardless. Those things are delicious.

And then, back at the hotel, I promptly passed out.


Day six was uneventful. All I did was got back to my apartment. I was going to go to Matsushima and another shrine nearby, but I was tired and just ready to get home. This was about a 4 hour train ride, I think.

Funnily enough, I ran into someone I knew at my station. It's a small world even in Japan.

And that was my trip.

Because there is so much to report, I'm splitting this into two posts. Here's the first 3 days of my trip.

Ok, so I got back from my trip on Sunday, but I'm still recovering. I'm exhausted~. But I need to recap before I forget everything, so here we go!


Day One starts epically early. So early, that I just don't go to bed the night before and I leave my apartment while the sun is still rising. This is even more impressing when you consider the fact that the sun rises at 4:30 am in Japan. But yes, I left around then to catch my first train at 5:32. There were a surprising number of people out and about, mostly middle aged joggers, but still. That's really early, man. Get some sleep.

The rest of the daylight hours were spent on trains. I rode a grand total of 7 different trains, and arrived at my final destination at about 7:30 at night. That's a lot of traveling. Most of it went fairly smoothly, except for just after stupid Morioka, where a private company owns the railways for about 6 stops, and I had to buy a separate ticket. Thank all that is good for the window operator who helped me figure out what I needed to do. I have a special pass that grant unlimited local train rides for five days, but that was of course useless on the private rails. Instead, I had to pay for those 6 stops, and then it switched back over to JR. I don't know. I didn't have to switch trains or anything.

Also, Northern Japan is pretty at first, but... there is NOTHING there. For about three hours, I was on a two-car, one conductor train that would stop at the TINIEST stops. Stops that were a platform, and a cluster of like 10 houses, maybe. Out in the middle of nowhere. I don't know how those people don't go insane.

Anyway, I get to my final destination for the day, Hirosaki. I manage to find my hotel fairly quickly, because it is RIGHT in front of the station, which was really nice. I check in and then leave in search of food. But I notice how empty the streets are, which is odd for a city of that size when it wasn't even very late. So I do a little more exploring, and hear some drums and BAM find the Hirosaki Nebuta Parade.

I think I must have been at the very end or very beginning of the route, because there weren't very many spectators. But it was very cool to watch and surprisingly casual. People would leave the parade to talk to someone they know, or someone on the sidelines would run in to take a picture with a friend. In fact, some guy ran up to me to say hi and ask where I was from. He'd apparently gone to DC to work for a few years. He thanked me for coming and told me to enjoy the culture.

I watched for a couple of hours, actually, until it ended around 10:30. Then I remember how I was hungry and grabbed some food at a conbini and went to bed.


Day Two didn't have near as much traveling to do, just a 45 minute trip to Aomori, so I had a lot of time to kill. In the morning, I decided to check out Hirosaki Castle. It was maybe a 20 minute walk from my hotel, and pretty easy to find.

It was pretty cool, but nothing terribly exciting. However, I did run into another foreigner while there. She was from Canada, and was living in Kyoto, but was touring the festivals like me. She had a really strong accent, so that was fun talking to her.

After that, I went back to the hotel and decided to head over to Aomori early. The parade wasn't until after dark, but I figured I'd be able to kill some time wandering the city.

Aomori was much bigger and busier than Hirosaki. And there were tons of people dressed up in yukata, which was really fun to see. But the coolest part was when I found where the floats are kept during the day.

I wandered in the direction of the ports, because those are usually pretty interesting, and what do you know, huge tents with floats in side! So I took a bunch of pictures, and I'm glad I did, because I got much better ones than if I'd tried to take them at night, and my battery ended up dying early in the night.

I also got to watch as one float got damaged and repaired. Two smaller ones kind of collided when they were being moved, but there was a guy who just tore away the ripped part, covered it back up with the rice paper, and bam, good as new. Luckily it was all white.

Then I went back to the main streets where there were shops and places to eat, and grabbed some food at a McDonald's. I ate outside and was actually joined by more foreigners - only French ones this time. And only one of which actually spoke English well. So that was an interesting experience there, too. They were with a Japanese later and were actually part of the parade, which was kind of cool.

It was starting to get kind of late, so I decided to hunt down a spot to watch from. It was easy to find where the parade route was, because there was chairs set out for the tour groups who had paid in advance, and also families had little blankets claiming their territory. I managed to find a little ledge that I could sit on and still have a good view.

The parade itself was also much bigger than Hirosaki, and I could easily see why this was one of the most famous festivals in all of Japan. It made me think of the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade what with the huge floats and all the people and everything. It was incredible. Unfortunately, as I mentioned already, my battery died pretty early on, so I didn't really get many good pictures. But you can get an idea from this video:

After the parade, it was back to my hotel in Hirosaki and lights out for me.


Day Three was a half travel day. I had to check out of my hotel around 10, but my train didn't leave until 11:17, so I bummed around the station for a bit. Which actually worked out in my favor, because there was a shamisen group and drumming group performing there. I watched them for awhile, then caught my trains. I had three on the way to Akita, and arrived at my destination around 2pm, so it wasn't too bad.

The first thing I had to do in Akita was get a locker. My hotel for the night was actually another hour train ride away, so I needed somewhere to keep my stuff until then. Of couse said lockers only took 100 yen coins, so first I needed some change. I bought a postcard off one of the stalls in the station and luckily managed to snag the last locker, but I accidently locked my camera in! Of course I was again out of change after that, and had to go buy some Aquarius (think Gatorade) at the nearest conbini and unlock the locker, take out my camera, and relock it. So I basically paid twice what it was worth.

But once my items were secured, I was free to wander. Akita was a little bit smaller, but I stuck to my method of following large groups of people or people in yukata and found a park where there was a competition for the lantern balancers that would be in the parade later.

Basically, these guys were incredible.

I watched them until the competition was over, then it was back to wandering for me. It was really hot out, so I tried to stay inside department stores as much as possible. It was a good way to kill time.

Then it was time for the parade. The route was a little bit further from the station, but again, easy to find after following the crowd. I found a spot that wasn't too crowded, but I was still towards the back, leaning against a building when a police officer came up to me. He said they were blocking off the roads now, and since it wasn't dangerous anymore, I could sit in the street. At first, I was confused, because my ears only heard the word 'dangerous' and I thought I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be. But then he said it again and I ended up on the front row, right in the street. It was great.

Then a lady sat next to me, who was very talkative and really impressed with my Japanese. She ended up buying me one of the guidebooks, which had some cool pictures in it.

Before the parade, there were a ton of girls and women in yukata that danced in the streets.

After that, the men and boys paraded around with the lanterns, while followed by floats with taiko drums on them. Then, once the whole route was covered, everyone stopped and began balancing the lanterns.

They rotated three times, and then invited the crowd to try out the drums or take pictures with the guys. I decided to go ahead and go back to the station instead, but along the way actually ran into another ALT from where I live! He was with a friend of his, and we chatted for a bit. He was also going up to Aomori, so I gave him some tips on where to go and whatnot. It was weird running into him, though. Small world.

Anyway, It was a little over an hour ride to Yokote, which housed my next hotel. Once I got the the station, I was so tired and out of it, that I didn't even really bother trying to find my hotel on my own. Instead, I opted for a taxi, which turned out to be expensive, but worth it. This hotel was a little bit further away, and on the opposite side of the tracks, so it was a little hard to get to.

And that is the first half of my trip.