Yesterday, I didn’t post anything because there wasn’t much to talk about. Early in the morning in Hakkodate, I walked through the Hakkodate morning market. Hakkodate is known for it seafood and it is home to some of the freshest in the country. Most of the market was dedicated to the sale of crab and squid. The market was cool, but nothing different or superior to the Tsukiji Fish Market which I toured in Tokyo at the beginning of my trip. After that, I checked out of my hotel and went to the train station. I had three trains to catch through out the day and each train ride was at least an hour. The first was the only notable one which took me from Hokkaido to Honshu underneath the ocean. That was kind of cool. Finally, at around 5 PM, I arrived in Kakunodate which is one of the smallest towns I have been in yet. It was very quiet and I did not see many people walking around outside. I went to my room and fell asleep.
This morning it was suggested I tour the Kakunodate samurai houses. The streets on which the samurai houses were built is lined with hundreds of cherry blossom trees. This street is one of the best places to come to see the cherry blossoms in April. Because of this, Kakunodate has the name of ”little Kyoto of Tohoku”. It was too bad I couldn’t come to Japan during the cherry blossom season. The samurai district once housed around 80 lower to upper class samurai families. Now, only six are open to the public, but really only two were really noteworthy.
The first of these I went to was the Ishiguro House. Here, I was met by a guy who gave me a tour of the house. During the tour, he revealed to me that the original family still lives in the house. He was the thirteenth generation of the Ishiguro who originally owned the house. He said that his great-great-…-great grandfather was one of the more wealthy samurai in the district and therefore he had a few rooms built strictly for entertaining important guests. After the tour, the house had its own exhibit with articles which had been passed down in the family for thirteen generations. That was pretty neat to see the family’s own armor and clothing.
Next was the Aoyagi House. This house was a complex of several buildings, each a museum with a different theme. First was the actual Aoyagi family house which led into an exhibition on samurai life in the feudal era. Next was said to be the largest collection of Western artifacts in Japan which included record players, clocks, and military clothing. Finally there was a tea room. After perusing through these various items, I made my way back to my hotel. It was still early in the morning so I found a map of Akita prefecture in the lobby. The map had stunning pictures of some of the best sites in the prefecture. I found the picture and description of Lake Tazawa to be the most appealing, so I explained to the man at the desk that I wanted to go to there. He gave me a description of all the bus and train routes and their schedules so I could go and come back in a day. I was very thankful and within the next ten minutes, I was on a bus to the lake.
When I first got there, I didn’t think the lake was anything too special. The brochure said the lake is the deepest in Japan, 423 meters at its deepest. It also said that the lake glows a mysterious red in the morning light. This was the main thing that drew me to the lake, but alas, I got there around 11:30. The map of the lake indicated that there was a shrine about a quarter of the way around from the bus station. With nothing else to do, I started walking. During my time in Japan, I’ve found that I like finding shrines or temples in rather obscure or remote places. They are always the milestone that I seem to set when I set off exploring. Usually these shrines or temples end up being a sort of hidden treasure for me to find. Anyway, I started walking the six kilometer hike towards the shrine.
I was immediately glad to have come to the lake. The water was perhaps the bluest I’ve ever seen. It almost looked like the artifically dyed water at miniture golf courses it was so blue. In addition, the lush green trees and plants all around the shore of the lake made for a really sharp contrast and a beautiful view. Needless to say, my walk went pretty quick with plenty of stuff to look at.
I stopped along the way for lunch at an inn named ‘That Sounds Good!’ The owner had collected a lot of American paraphenalia like old records and stuff and hung them all over the wall. She even had Big Band music playing. I felt like I was in an Applebee’s rather than in a more remote part of Japan half way around the world. It was quite an interesting restaurant.
After lunch I made it to Gozanoishi Shrine. Gozanoishi comes from the Chinese characters which mean ‘Honorable Sitting Rock’. The shrine got its name because it is said that in 1650, the daimyo of Satake came and rested on the rock where the bright red torii sits now. The view from the shrine was surreal. The view of the blue lake with the red torii and the green trees was a great view.
I went to the rock’s edge and sat, dangling my feet in the water below. In the pure water beneath me, I could see fish swimming around. Behind me, someone in shrine was playing the traditional Japanese gagaku music. Looking out across the lake were mountains covered with tall green trees. I sat there thinking about my trip and all the amazing things I’ve seen over the past five weeks. It sank in that I leave in less than a week, and I was overcome with a little bit of sadness as I don’t think I could find a single place in America that comes close to matching the serenity and beauty of Japan.
After a long time, I got up and started the long walk back to the bus station. I got there just as another bus was pulling up. The bus took me to the city of Tazawako and from there I took the train back to Kakunodate. Tomorrow, I have another long day. But on the bright side, I will see two different UNESCO World Heritage Sites tomorrow. First, I go to Haraizumi which used to be a huge city rivaling Kyoto during the feudal era. From there, its on to Nikko whose temples display some of the finest architecture in all of Japan. Nikko is where Tokugawa Ieyasu is buried and has been something I’ve been looking forward to this entire trip. See you next time!