Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.

Juniko and Matsuri

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10:30am is a difficult time for everyone in the office: we’ve passed the halfway point towards lunch, but there still remains an uncomfortable hour and a half of stomach rumbling and procrastinating until the town bells ring at 12 and we flock to the table to pick up our freshly prepared bentos.  It’s especially hard for me as my body isn’t used to being starved for longer than 2 hours at a time.

It was approaching 10:30 on Thursday and I could feel the energy in the office rapidly waning, so I decided it would be a good time to unveil my culinary efforts.  As soon as I produced the tin of cookies, everyone got very excited and I could hear my popularity points 1-up as I handed them round to each person.  They seemed to do the trick as we had a laugh and a nice chat, feeling more relaxed now that hunger had been staved off for a little while longer.  Food is a wonderful thing.  The cheery mood continued into the afternoon, when my supervisor suddenly suggested that we take the afternoon off to visit Lake Juniko.  I had nothing to do so I happily obliged!  Even though I looked a bit strange going to a hiking trail in my work gear.

Juniko translates as 12 ponds, but I think there are actually something like 33.  We were only making a short visit so we just walked to the two main ponds.  The first was the most famous called Aoike, meaning blue pond, and even though the water wasn’t at its clearest that day, it was still remarkably beautiful.  I have never breathed such pure, refreshing air!  Unfortunately the mozzies seemed to like it too, and I spent half the time neurotically swatting the air around my exposed ankles.



We then walked to the next pond, which I actually preferred.  The blue was a lighter shade and I thought you could see under the water a bit better.


Of course it’s quite hard to see what it’s really like from a photo and there are much better photos out there than mine, but it was really magical!  I felt like I was in a Ghibli film.  On the way back we got Aoike flavour ice cream (it was blue and tasted like pear) and stopped off at the other town office for a chat with the other workers.  One lady gave me a carton of juice and said it was a bit suppai (sour), but that was a complete understatement.  I smiled and mmmm-ed politely as I took a couple of sips but it might as well’ve been a carton of vinegar and I did not feel especially great afterwards.  Meanwhile she was happily slurping away through the straw of her own carton.  I’ve noticed a lot of drinks are advertised as “suppai” but I have no idea why people drink them so much as they taste horrible.

So Thursday was a really good day; however today is not such a good day as I’m back after a 3 day weekend, I’ve finished all my lesson plans and cannot face studying anymore Japanese.  I’m starting taiko this week though and there is a sumo tournament at one of my schools on Thursday which I’m really looking forward to.  I think I could really get into sumo!  There was a match on TV which I watched a bit of yesterday.  I don’t know a lot about the rules but when the wrestlers enter the ring, they do this Haka-like performance of clapping and lifting each leg high into the air and slamming it down.  The enthusiasm of the audience’s roar grows with the height and force of the wrestler’s leg lifting.  It’s quite impressive really!  The fights themselves are fierce, with wrestlers often emerging splattered in blood, and I noticed most of them had a cauliflower ear.

On Saturday I went to a squid festival in the next town with another ALT, where there were squid curtains all along the edge of the port and people cooking them over charcoal barbeques.  The fresh squid looked a bit weird flapping in the breeze.  I asked to take a photo of a man cooking some, and he let us have a go and then very kindly gave us the squid as a present!  We bumped into him again later and he insisted on buying us cake.  Foreigner advantages.  On Sunday there was another festival in Hirosaki which was much bigger, and displayed a float from the major festivals in each town in Aomori.  My favourite was Hachinohe’s Sansha festival float, which is huge and covered in colourful ornaments which gradually emerge out of the float during the procession.  The highlight of Japanese festivals for me though is probably the food stalls… There are so many tasty things on offer and it’s hard to be disappointed with what you get, unlike when you go to some kind of outdoor event in the UK and find yourself paying seven quid for a crap hotdog.  Someone recommended that we try ika menchi, which is a kind of minced squid fritter, so we did, and it was heavenly.  Afterwards we decided to check out Hirosaki castle as it was a nice day, and took a stroll towards the park.  The park is huge and famous for its cherry trees which are everywhere, so I can imagine it’ll look really impressive when Spring arrives.

I sent some postcards out the other day, and I just overheard my supervisor on the phone to someone from the post office… apparently I got the wrong stamps (I asked for postcard stamps but the lady in the shop gave me domestic ones instead of overseas, oops) and the post office found all seven of my postcards written in English and obviously knew they were mine!  A bit embarrassing.  Well hopefully they’ll get delivered soon… Anyway I should probably do some work now.  Here is a wee gallery of photos from the weekend:

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I’m also quite scared for the referendum tomorrow.  Obviously I’m completely against the idea of Scotland becoming independent, but if it does happen, it will be very interesting to see how that turns out – but probably not in a good way!  Fukaura reminds me of Broughty Ferry a lot and I’ve actually dreamt about being there a few times since I’ve lived here.  I’m getting quite nostalgic for Dundee!

One thought on “Juniko and Matsuri

  1. Great up dates, keep ’em coming X Uncle Mike.

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