Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Shoes, cities and missing festivals

Date: Tuesday 6th August

MP3 track of the day: Built this city on rock and roll -Starship

Weather: Overcast until about 4pm when it rained heavily. The rain, of course, stopped as soon as I purchased an umbrella.

I had a reasonable nights sleep. Having driven such a long way yesterday, I slept in until 9:30am and spent the morning updating my blog and uploading the photos I'd taken yesterday. Once all had been completed I said goodbye to an eighteen year old Japanese lad (who had bigger muscles than me; but I'm not jealous) who is currently cycling around Northern Honshu. I think he's planning on cycling around the whole area in four months (nutter!). Once 'superman' had left I too walked away from the hostel, heading towards town. His departure was marked with photos and a fan group of three women saying 'good looking isn't he?' in Japanese. My departure was far less majestic.

When I arrive in a city of Sendai's size (probably similar to Birmingham), I like my first journey into the city center to be on foot. A part from being tight, there are many reasons for this including you get to see a lot more of the outskirts plus, if all of the cities public transport dies, in a daemonic attack which only targets non-living moving objects, I can still get back to wherever I am staying without any issues. At the time I didn't realise that it would take close to an hour to get to Sendai's train station; I did, however, find out very quickly that today was going to be humid and that I'd forgotten to bring a hankie with me. Rather cleverly, I'd also forgotten to read up about Sendai this morning, though I do recall my guidebook stating that 'Sendai had no major tourist attractions whatsoever'. It mattered not; I soon rectified the humidity and hankie issue buy buying a bottle of coke and a packet of tissues from a convenience store along my route. I decided that to rectify the other issue I would visit Sendai's tourist information center to see 'what's what'.

I knew that I was getting nearer to the city center because the buildings were getting taller and were beginning to be packed very close together. I made my way through the crowds and found myself at one of the biggest train stations known to man. Standing at one end I could just about see the other end. As I walked inside I realised that 'country mouse had come to town' when I felt very uncomfortable with the sheer amount of people. “...Can I help...” said a young female voice to my right. I spun around to see not one, but two high school students gazing up at me. I asked them about the festival, and one of them soon disappeared to get me an English map, plus programme, whereas the other stood chatting to me in 'basic English'. It turned out that they were from one of the local high schools and that they were helping out with the festival. We continued our conversation until the other student returned, programme in hand and, I think, with her teacher. He told me what the children were doing and said that 'they were studying English so, please speak English' which is all well and good, but when do I get to practice my Japanese? I thanked the three of them for their help and went back outside.

Studying the map, it would appear that anything 'festivally' was happened away from the station, in a north-westerly direction. This was quite handy as it meant that I would have to walk through Sendai's shopping arcade which normally, just because of the sheer amount of people, I would have avoided at all costs however this time I had some shopping to do. For about nine months now I have been trying to find UK size 11 shoes in a country of people with small feet. I won't go into all of the boring details but it has resulted in me being told that my home prefecture (note not town; the entire prefecture) haven't got any shoes in my size (I also had similar issues in Tokyo). This has turned from a pain into a huge problem as most of my trainers are falling to pieces. Someone did mention I might 'get lucky' in Sendai and so, back at the hostel, I asked the owner where would be a good place to look for shoes. She had said Sendai's main shopping arcade and, as I moved through the arcade, people were all around me each one with their own shopping list. To make matters worse Sendai's tanabata festival decorations (which looked like a round ball with streams of paper coming down from it) were hung, from the roof, all the way down the arcade. The decorations were so tall that, even though they were hung from the roof, I had to brush them aside as I made my way though the hordes of people coming at me from all directions. I would say that this was my definition of a living hell but, after the 8th shoe shop, I was finally awarded with a selection of Nike trainers in my size. As the time was only 2pm I made a mental note of the shop name and decided I would 'have a think' before returning later in the day to, probably, buy the trainers. They were £65.00, which was a little expensive for a design I wasn't completely 'won over' by. However they were in my size and I did like the look of them.

As I said earlier, the time was 2pm and so far today I hadn't eaten a single thing. I popped into a 'Mr Donuts' to consume three donuts before walking along a bridge and up a steep slope to, what was left of, Sendai's ancient castle.

As most history buffs will know; most castles, throughout the world, were built in strategic positions with commanding views. Sendai castle was no exception and by the time I'd climbed up the mountain (yes it was a mountain) I was ringing with sweat and full of disappointment. As soon as I got to the top I was greeted by a noticeboard which showed what the area would have looked like 'in the day', plus it described that only the outer walls had survived as the castle was destroyed by imperial forces many years ago. Why this noticeboard couldn't have been erected at the bottom of the mountain I do not know. Still, now up, I had a quick look around the shops (which, if you work out how much it cost to build those stores, I bet it would have cost the same amount to rebuild the castle) and the beautiful view of Sendai which this place gave. Once I'd walked around the perimeter of the castle I left and walked back into town and purchased my trainers. The woman, who served me, chatted with me for a while and I discovered that she wants to become a high school P.E. teacher and that she is currently studying so that she can take the 'teacher exams' soon. As I left I wished her good look.

Tired and sweaty I had a sit down in one of Sendai's many McDonalds where I watched the people walk by as I drank my strawberry milkshake. As I sat the heavens opened and a torrential downpour hit the city of Sendai. I had no choice; Once out of McDonalds I had to purchase mans worst friend. It has many names; the devil's creation, the constant evil or the contraption that should not be named however, most of you will know it as an umbrella. Yes people today, Tuesday 6th August 2013, I purchased my 2nd umbrella (the first I bought in Singapore; and that was for the sun) and as soon as I had done so … the rain receded.

I ran out into the street before the rain stopped altogether. I wanted to at least use it once so that it wouldn't have been a waste of money. I walked across the road, umbrella raised and with a look of defeat across my face, and popped into a restaurant for dinner. It's common, in Japan, for guests umbrella's to be left in a box outside a restaurant, and this place was no exception. I grudgingly kept with tradition but I also watched that box constantly as I ate.

Once I'd finished my tea I went back out onto the streets of Sendai and wondered around the area where, I thought, the Tanabata Parade would occur in about an hours time. As I wondered around block, after block, after block I noticed something. Big cities are just a lot of buildings of exactly the same thing. If I put Sendai into four block 'areas', each of these 'areas', it seemed, consisted of a convenience store, a block of flats, a clothe shop and one other shop (be it a laundrette, a garage, a car park etc). This would then be repeated area, after area after area until I started wondering why I was purposely looking for new areas to walk around. Also, as the above thoughts were rushing through my head, I also noticed something else; the road which, I thought, was going to be used as the parade street still had traffic rushing a long it.

The time was 6:30pm and, I thought, the parade was due to start at 7pm. Even so, by now, the police should have been on the scene, crowds should be lining the streets and the event organisers should be ready to pounce as soon as the road was closed. However everything was quite. As my feet were hurting I went into a cafe which over-looked the parade street and ordered a hot chocolate. As I let it cool I reached into my back pocket for my programme. The event list was all in Japanese however, on a close inspection, I realised that there wasn't going to be a parade tonight. Annoyed I worked out what, and where, was on and I made my way to a park to watch the closing act of a day. The final act, luckily for me, was a comedy duo speaking entirely in Japanese. I left and went to the train station.

This morning I was told that a local train ran from Sendai's main train station back to my hostel (well, a five minute walk away). As it was 7:30pm I decided to take the train back, instead of walking to my hostel however, with all the train maps written in Japanese, with the train station full of people, with me having little patience left for crowds and with no one around to ask for help I decided to walk back. By now the rain had stopped and, even though it was still humid, it turned out to be a very pleasant walk back.

Once back at my hostel I put my new shoes in my car, took a shower and drank the bottle of orange juice I bought on my way back. I then stayed up until 11pm before hitting the sack.

Tomorrow I'm heading back towards Matsushima Bay as there is a peninsular not too far away which my guidebook recommends.

I hope it's good!

Toodle Pip!

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