Went for a 26k ride last weekend up to Ajigasawa and back, taking a couple of photos of near where I live along the way. I know you probably think I’m a wuss for only just getting out on my bike at the end of April, but road biking in Aomori weather right by the sea just isn’t worth the pain!! Even on the way back, the headwind was strong enough to make me want to just finish the ride already. The big fat beautiful cherry blossoms and blue skies made it worth it though.
Not wanting to waste the few 3-day weekends I have left in Japan, a friend and I decided to spend one by going on a road trip around Iwate prefecture. After Hokkaido, it’s the largest prefecture in terms of area, but its lack of any major sightseeing spots means it’s not exactly number one on the list of places to visit in Japan. It does however offer a stunning coastline and a few really interesting touristy places that we planned our trip around seeing. Recently I’ve started to appreciate just walking or driving around an area and taking in the scenery, pausing to explore off-road if something catches my eye.
Over three days we spent about 12 hours driving (not including the 7 hours of driving to and from Alyssa’s house that I did!) so we definitely got a good feel for the area. Our impressions were that Iwate seemed a lot tidier than Aomori; even in the depths of the countryside, the houses were decorative and built in the traditional Japanese style, with neat thatched roofs and sturdy-looking wooden features. In Aomori, there is a significant amount of abandoned houses, or ones that are in desperate need of some love and attention. (I may or may not write a blog post about this, so just in case I don’t, this article explains the housing situation in Japan quite well: https://www.tofugu.com/japan/japanese-architecture/)
On the first day of our journey we went to Goshogake Onsen up in the mountains. We were going to go for a hike too, but the path was closed for winter due to snow, so we just spent extra long in the onsen. The baths were fantastic, but the highlight was the volcanic mud bath, where we sat on tiny slippery stools in the water while some nice old ladies treated us to a lovely muddy massage. We left with skin as smooth as a baby’s bum.
There was a lot of driving done that day, so we finished up in Morioka, Iwate’s capital. There wasn’t really anything we wanted to do, so we had some dinner at a cute Hawaiian restaurant and set up our car hotel for the night. It was my first time sleeping in a car, but with all the duvets and futons and pillows we piled in there, it was super cosy and way more fun than sleeping in a bed! We made the mistake of parking in a car park outside the mall, which I realised after coming back from a toilet trip to see two security guards making their way over to the car with torches in hand. We moved swiftly on to a conbini car park with no problems.
We woke at 6 and headed out straight after we bought some breakfast from the conbini next to our car. The great thing about sleeping in a car is that you don’t have to wait for people to get ready or pack their stuff, so we were continued off in no time. We drove a couple of hours south to Geibikei Gorge, stopping on the way to check out an interesting shrine that Alyssa spotted, and then hopped on the first boat tour of the day. Our tour guide was hilarious and worth the trip alone, but the only disappointment was that we came at exactly the wrong time of year, as everything was a bit post-winter-dead. March is unfortunately too late for seeing the magnificent icicles that drape down the sides of the gorge, and too early for any greenery or flowers to give the rocky surroundings a sense of life. I did get to try wasabi ice cream though, which I debated for a while. Would a spicy radish really make a good ice cream flavour?? We asked the tour guide, who said he had tried all the flavours on offer, and that the wasabi’s spiciness was choudo ii – just right. I can confirm that it was!
Our next stop was at Tono, a folk village, on the way to Miyako city. It was interesting, but all the little reconstructed houses started to look the same after a while. We drove on through the windy mountains before dusk towards Miyako for dinner, stumbling upon a nice izakaya where we sat at the bar and were treated generously by the master. He tweaked various dishes for Alyssa, who’s vegetarian, and even gave us dessert and some plum liqueur on the house, because he said he was happy we came all this way to his city. At night we drove down in the dark to the beachfront of Jodogahama, where we could just about make out the rock formations in the water in front of us. We laid out the futon in the car and set our alarms for sunrise.
We woke at 5:30ish, grabbed a hot drink from the vending machine and found a good spot on the beach to wait for the sun to rise. It was gorgeous and well worth the early start! The rest of the day was spent winding along the coast, stopping at Ryusendo Caves, where we got up close and personal with some bats after I nearly bashed my head on one under a low passageway. Driving the scenic route highlighted just how much construction work was still going on five years after the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami disaster.
Our trip ended with the nicest weather we had all weekend, perfect for the gorgeous cliffs at Kitayamazaki and some delicious cliff-shaped curry and rice for lunch.
Every year there is a small, free-entry rock festival near the base of Mt. Iwaki, and I knew I had to go as soon as someone told me about it. It had been almost a year since I’d gone to a live show, so I was really looking forward to watching some local Japanese bands out in the sun all day.
I was actually quite surprised at how good the bands were; not really being a fan of Japanese music, I was a little skeptical of what the acts would be like but was mainly just going for the experience, and of course, the food stalls that no Japanese festival is complete without.
The first band was a punk trio featuring two girls dressed in nurse uniforms on bass and guitar/vocals, with a guy on drums in a doctor’s coat. They were awesome and had a really fun style, saying “odaiji ni!” (get well soon) as they walked off stage after their set. A very enthusiastic drunk guy appeared at the front of the audience a couple of times, punching the air to the music and encouraging everyone else to join him. He did manage to get two American ALTs to come up and jump around for a bit, but otherwise he was rocking out solo.
On the way back we stopped off to check out the Jersey cow dairy farm for ice cream. We couldn’t actually see the cows, although we could smell them, and it seemed like the only thing there was the tiny shop where a grumpy lady was selling fresh dairy products from the farm. I chose caramel banana ice cream after some intense indecision over that and my all time favourite flavour, mocha, and it was well worth the risk. I’ll be back for the mocha.
We also drove to see the nanohana, a huge field of beautiful yellow rape blossoms in front of Mt. Iwaki. It was gorgeous in the hazy late afternoon, and the hundreds of bees seemed to be enjoying the flowers too.