Day three (part 1) – To the coast (Jodogahama Beach)

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Fri, 23rd Sep. So the serious part of my journey began. The sky was clear and the sun was shining. It felt like autumn. Before we left Morioka, we met with Kanako-sensei one more time. She is now Deputy Head … Continue reading

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Day two (part 3) – Hanamaki and Morioka

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Hanamaki and the Sasakis Thur, 22nd Sep. After Hiraizumi we jumped on the expressway heading north towards Hanamaki (famous for its onsen) and Morioka. As a resident of the disaster area, Yuka had an official certificate in the glove box … Continue reading

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Day two (part 2) – Hiraizumi World Heritage Site

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Thur, 22nd Sep. In my 1991 edition of the Lonely Planet Guide to Japan, Iwate only gets seven pages of which one is a full-page map. Two of those pages are dedicated to Hiraizumi and its principal tourist attractions, Chuzon-ji … Continue reading

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Day two (part 1) – Daito to Hiraizumi

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Thur, 22nd 2011. By the time we woke on Thursday, Typhoon No. 15 has passed over and the skies were clear. That bode well for our planned visit to Hiraizumi. However, the early morning news reports showed a trail of … Continue reading

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Day one (part 2) – Sleepover in Daito

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Wed, 21st Sep. It was a close call. My shinkansen got to Ichinoseki at 16.21 by which time Typhoon No.15 was also heading up Tohoku and all trains scheduled to go north had been canceled. Waiting for me at the … Continue reading

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Day one (part 1) – Back to Iwate

Wed, 21st Sep.Today my trip starts in earnest. I’m up at 5am finishing yesterday’s blog and dealing with emails which have come in overnight. At 7.30am I head downstairs to the lobby for breakfast. It’s a mixture of Japanese and Japanese-style ‘western’! I go for natto on rice and miso soup with eggs and sausages. There seem to be more western tourists than when I was here a moth ago. The lady next to me is reading a brochure on walking tours around Asakusa and a bus trip to Mt. Fuji.

A yummy breakfast of natto, miso soup, scrambled egg, sausages and yoghurt!

At 9.30am I walk over to the Foreign Office in Kasumigaseki for my ‘briefing’ with Mr. Ueno and his boss, Mr. Kawakami. Mrs. Sakai of JTB also attends. I talk them through my schedule and some of the activities. Mr. Kawakami tells me to report things exactly as I see them. Mr. Ueno has been up to Rikuzen Takata, Ofunato and Onagawa and tells me to brace myself.

Typhoon approaching Tokyo. I nip up to the 25F Reception of the Park Hotel Shiodome. On clear days you get a beautiful (free) view of Mt. Fuji.

When I leave the rain has started again and is now coming down in torrents. It looks like the typhoon has finally arrived. On my way to Tokyo Station my wife rings from the US and asks if the trains are running. She is watching NHK news and all the talk is of Typhoon No. 15 which has come on shore south of Tokyo and is predicted to follow my exact route north to Tohoku. She tells me that most flights out of Haneda Airport in Tokyo have been canceled. When I get to Tokyo Stations things still seem to be running fairly normally although there are some cancellations of local trains due to the wind. However, the platform is being lashed by rain so passengers are huddled away from the edge. Two female JR employees are out in the torrent ‘sweeping’ the platform with rubber ‘mops’ to keep it from becoming too wet and slippery. They are fighting an impossible battle but sticking doggedly to their task.

A deserted Tokyo Station platform as the typhoon closes in and rain lashes down.
Where else in the world do you get such precision as to where your train will stop?

I stand in line to buy a ticket. The queue is long but moves smoothly. I get my ticket to Ichinoseki on the Yamabiko bullet train suggested by Yuka. I will arrive at 16.21. I am not expecting much in the way of scenery today, but I ask for a window seat on the left (west) in case there is an opportunity to see the impressive volcanoes running up the northern spine of Japan – Dantai-san which stands guard above the temples and waterfalls of Nikko in Tochigi Prefecture, Bandai-san in Fukushima and Zao in Yamagata. All the window seats on the left are reserved I am told, but I can have a window seat on the right (east). East also happens to be the side of the train where the crippled Fukushima nuclear power reactors are located. I wonder if that is significant? At the closest point, the shinkansen will be about 30 miles away. I take a window seat on the right anyway, but when we get underway the rain is so strong I only get glimpses of buildings then mountains enshrouded in fog as we head north on the 2 hour 40 minute trip.

I work on my blog as the. train races Typhoon No. 15 north. Somewhere in the foggy distance are the crippled reactors of Fukushima. I wonder if the rice beginning to yellow in the paddies will get eaten this year?

The last thing to do before the train departs is to buy the obligatory bento box for lunch with a can of beer and a bottle of green tea. I get a ‘limited edition’ autumn edition bento. The presentation of the box and its contents is equally stunning. It’s also tasty and the beer goes down a treat. It is a lot cooler than I had imagined but still about 20C and extremely humid. I am as wet from sweating as I am from the rain.

Bento and beer! A feast for the eyes and the taste spuds..

Now I am off at last. It has been at least 16 years since I made the trip to Iwate by train but the first part of the journey as far as Omiya is very familiar to me. From 2000 to 2008 I commuted every day from Takasaki in Gunma Prefecture to our office in Shimbashi on the Niigata/Nagano Line which merges with the Tohoku Line in Omiya before heading into Tokyo. In all of that time I only recall the trains stopping once, when a mouse got electrocuted inside the main Omiya signal box, shorting the system, and bringing the entire northern bullet train network to a stand still for about 4 hours during evening rush hour! At other times trains were so punctual that if they arrived more than a couple of minutes late into Tokyo we would be handed a ticket confirming what time we had got in. Such is the precision of the time keeping on Japanese railways that an employee who blames his late arrival at work on the trains running late would not be believed without proof!

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Day 0 – (part 2) Back in Japan

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The flight from San Francisco to Tokyo is packed as usual – a triple code share heading for Bangkok via Narita. The Japanese fight attendants take excellent care of us (even the ones down the back). The feeling of “Welcome … Continue reading

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Day 0 – (part 1) Departure

So here we go. Omiyage (presents) are bought and bags are packed.

Omiyage gifts. I hope I didn’t forget anyone….
Bags packed and ready for the off…
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interlude – chopsticks

The first time I recall using chopsticks was the ‘Handover Ceremony’ in Morioka. After Tokyo Orientation we were whisked off to our respective Prefectures and on the final day a teacher from each of our host schools came to pick us up. A hotel reception was arranged and the AETs were called into the ballroom one by one to be paired off with their new masters! When our name was called we each had to enter, bow and then make our way to the far end of the room in front of a couple of hundred inquisitive eyes. That was generally followed by a comical ‘dance’ as AET bowed to host teacher and host teacher tried to shake AET’s hand…

Then somebody called “Kampai!” and the festivities began. It had been drilled in to us that we had to pour our host teacher’s beer and fill their plates with food. I was so nervous that my hand shook and the beer foamed all down the side of my teacher’s glass. Furthermore, the polished, lacquer enkai (party) chopsticks were much harder to master than the flat, coarse, disposable wari bashi of the beer garden, and sushi was a lot more slippery than karage (fried chicken)! I proceeded to drop raw fish all over my teacher’s slippers – but then realised he hadn’t even noticed as he was even more stressed out from meeting me!

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Works (& Play)

I saw my first Wadaiko (Japanese drum) performance at Kamaishi Festival in Sep’92. The drums were set up on the docks right against the water with a backdrop of the open sea. The powerful rhythms reverberated off the cavernous walls of the fish market and left a lasting impression.

I didn’t actually start to play until I arrived in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture in 1995, and wanting to make new friends, I joined Takasaki Yorimasa Daiko and played with them for ten years, including for the Emperor and Empress and at the Nagano Winter Olympics. The pictures below were inspired by our 30th Anniversary Concert in 2005 (and my last performance) played in front of a full house of approximately 3,000 spectators at the Gunma Symphony Hall. However, it was always the outdoor concerts played ‘within striking distance’ of the audience and exposed to the elements – we played in the snow & even got hit by lightning –  which I will never forget.

Yorimasa Daiko 30th Anniversary Concert by A. Mockridge (Maya 3D)

Yorimasa Daiko 30th Anniversary Concert by A. Mockridge (Maya 3D)

"Oni" (The Demon) performed by Yorimasa Daiko by A. Mockridge (Illustrator)

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