Weather: Sunny and bright in the morning; turning cold and overcast in the afternoon (In the evening it snowed).
MP3 track of the day: AKB48 – I love you
So, once again I find myself within Japan, on a Sunday, and with the day off. The only difference is that its my birthday, and I've moved north to Morioka, the capital of the Iwate province (pronounced Ie-wat-ae).Being my birthday, I decided to put my work information away (well, for the morning at least) and find something that I wanted to eat, no matter the cost. Last night I was out in Morioka, 'clubbing it up', until the early hours (some teachers popped by to introduce themselves); this meant that breakfast occurred around 10:30am.
I decided to hit 'Mr Donuts' for, err, donuts. The donuts themselves were fine. I had two; an iced, and a chocolate and coconut one. The problem was the drink; I asked for a hot chocolate, however it would appear that they didn't do 'a cup of coco'. I then asked for tea, but I received ice tea instead; I smiled, said thank you, and sat down.
The ice tea tasted like water, so it was at least drinkable. I left 'Mr Donuts' (probably for the final time), got out my camera and wondered through the centre of Morioka taking photos of this and that. I like Morioka; it's a large city (roughly 600,000 people) surrounded by mountains. The main 'bad boy' within this area is Mt Iwate; at around 2,038km high, its snow-capped dome was clearly visible.
I walked through the shopping streets until I hit 'Morioka Castle Park'; ages ago an old Japanese fort was built here, overlooking the two rivers below. Today, only the ruins of the castle remain, however English information (and maps) are located around the area giving you a sense of what it was like. I wondered around the area taking photos, giving a friendly 'good day' to the locals and generally enjoying myself. The walls were made of large pieces of local stone, and it's amazing to think how they got them up on this high hill.
After walking around for a bit I found myself within a small park, attached to the old castle by a small bridge. Crossing the bridge I took a photo of the very beautiful stream which flowed beneath; the area was covered in trees and only a few rays of light touched the ground.
One thing I wasn't expecting to see, was a North American totem-pole erected here in the middle of the park. As I read the inscription all became clear; Morioka is twinned with Victoria (British Columbia, Canada) and this was sent over as a present. Out of the two I think I prefer Victoria; Morioka is lovely, but Victoria just edges it (I wish I was back in Canada).
Finally I made it to the river; the river seemed very low and the stone banks were very dominant against the waterline. I took a few shorts, but didn't stay long as my next stop was a small temple located to the north of the park. This temple – called Sakurayama Shrine – was very beautiful but compact; trying to get a photo of the whole thing was nearly impossible. Plus, there were a few people bowing in front of the alter and making prayers; therefore I left sharpish, not wanting to disturb them.
As I was walking back to the main gate, what can only be described as an army – lined two abreast – were forming at the bottom of the castle. I peered over the battlements and noticed their transport vehicles and that, they seemed to be sub-divided into regiments, each one with a person in charge carrying a small green flag. It could only mean one thing, the Japanese 'tourist battle bus' had arrived in town. I continued to observe, noticing their 'leaders' pointing up towards the castle. I looked for reinforcements, to 'man the walls', but only Sharpe could have won with these odds. I therefore decided to 'leg it' north, towards a bunch of temples.
Having managed to escape the onslaught of the 'Japanese battle bus', I pressed north first finding the 'Rock splitting Cherry-tree' (a national monument). The tree is, funnily enough, emerging through a rock, splitting it in two. Apparently, when its in full bloom it's meant to look very nice; however it wasn't in full bloom and to me, it looked as though it had been set on fire. I pressed on even further north, towards the Daisenji Temple.
Daisenji Temple is actually an area of many temples, all with their own cemeteries; because of this, I only peered through the open doors and refrained from taking any photos. The buildings were very nice; most were in the traditional Japanese style, using mainly wood. After a quick look I pressed on to the 'Demon's Handprints', located behind the temple sites.
To get to the 'handprints' I had to go walk along many small, and narrow side-streets. In any other country, I would have been scared of attack; but in Japan, all I got were bows and 'good mornings'.
Once at the sight, a camera crew were setting up; I entered the area and went directly towards a plaque, which translated why these two huge stones, which were in front of me, were so important. Apparently there was a bad spirit who attacked the province of 'Iwate' for many years. The people prayed to a good god who eventually captured this evil spirit; the evil spirit wanted to get out and so, as a condition, he had to promise never to return to the area. The good god made him leave a hand print, as a signature, here in these rocks (also 'te', in 'Iwate', means hand).
After this I was getting hungry; I headed back into town where I stopped off for something yummy, before returning to my hotel to read some documents. The time, 2:30pm.
I finally emerged from my room at 6pm; as this was my birthday, 'cake' was a priority; I found a coffee shop where I managed to order a hot chocolate and a slice of cake (a small note; I'd found better looking cake else where, but without the hot chocolate … this was a compromise to get both). As I sat in the cafe, watching others getting on with their daily lives, I cast my mind back a year. It's strange to think that, last year, I wasn't too far away; I was at Ha Long Bay in Vietnam … I hadn't even been into China this time last year!
After my lovely hot chocolate, and okay cake, I returned to my hotel to chill and read a little more. Not sure what I'm going to do tonight; I'm not massively hungry so I may skip tea … I dunno!
Until the next time … Toodle Pip!