Monday, July 18, 2011

First post from Akita

Not a bad view from up here. All that sweaty hiking was worth it.

I’ve been away from my blog for a while now, but not by choice. After three weeks in Akita, I finally got hooked up to the Internet at home, and virtually every attempt I made to get online elsewhere in Akita, even to check email, was thoroughly thwarted. Why? Who on earth knows. I’m just glad I’ve got home access to the Internet now. It’d be nice to have a phone, too, but I apparently have to wait another month for that, not to mention five more weeks for the sofa I bought yesterday afternoon to be delivered. I guess things here just take a long time…

The second floor apartment is where I now live. It's a far cry from my place on Truc Bach Lake in Hanoi. It's a good place, though.

Sekiya grocery store and these two fruit shops are where I'm doing most of my shopping these days.

The final street I take on my way home from work.

I also managed to break my good camera during my move, so all I’ve got to use now is an old camera whose photos aren’t particularly good. Until I can get the old one fixed or I decide to invest in a new one, I’m going to have to make do with what I have.

I’m not sure where to start regarding my new life in Akita. It’s certainly very different from my life in Hanoi. Mostly, though, I’m working all the time and don’t have the energy once I get home—usually after 9 pm, when most businesses have long closed—to explore my environs. Most of my exploring has been limited to errands I’ve run on a very run-down bicycle, and I’d say that 75% of my meals are coming from convenience stores. Who’s got time to cook, much less shop for appliances and groceries? On Saturday nights, however, throughout the hot summer, there’s a free concert series held near my apartment to benefit people who were displaced by the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami. Last Saturday there was a local Kentucky bluegrass band that played for a couple of hours, and they were very good.

Kentucky bluegrass has found a home in Akita, apparently.

Not to mention quite a following.

In any case, I’m enjoying myself here, though it’s insanely hot and the office where I work is usually 33 C by 10 a.m. and we’re trying not to use air-conditioning. My colleagues and I spend most of the day blotting our sweaty faces with thick face towels and moaning.

Anyway, today I took my first trip outside of Akita and into the countryside. The countryside, or what I saw of it today, was pretty awe-inspiring.

Unfortunately, I’ll have to fill in the names of the places I went to today later, once I can get the information from the colleague who generously invited me to go hiking with him to a couple temples in the Mt. Taihei area northeast of Akita City.

Traveling in style through the Akita countryside...

The path leading to one of the temples we stopped to see on our way to Mt. Taihei.

Akita City doesn’t have many great temples, though there are quite a few small ones that I’ve already bumped into. Apparently there are several important temples and shrines in Akita prefecture, including a giant Buddha statue—the third largest in all of Japan, so I hear—housed in a rural temple surrounded by blueberry fields that I’d love to visit, but since I don’t have a car and these are remote areas we’re talking about, I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get to any of them.

Mt. Taihei, however, is reputed to have a number of temples worth visiting. What's more, these temples are set within a large forested park, and hiking opportunities (discounting bears, snakes, and potentially lethal hornets) abound here. We headed to a small shrine that was a short, but extremely steep, climb from a parking area in what's called Mt. Taihei Resort Park.

One of the various parks in Mt. Taihei.

It didn't take long to reach––maybe 20 or 25 minutes––but by the time we reached the shrine we were soaked in sweat and needed a few minutes to catch our breaths.

An old stone and torii set before the trail leading to a mountain shrine.

Virtually the entire trail was this steep...

The shrine isn't exactly spectacular, but the views from here, as you can see above, are definitely pretty nice.

After descending back down the trail we headed to what was billed as a waterfall area. It was true that there were waterfalls here, though what greets you in the parking area is water falling from squares cut out of a mossy cement wall. It looked nice, and in the heat it was cooling to see.

We decided to leave the Mt. Taihei park at around 1 p.m., but first we needed to refuel with some food. There aren't a lot of choices in the park, but we did find an interesting, and quite tasty, place called Yamanogodai that was open for lunch.

Yamanogodai is a mom-and-pop place with a lot of character. This becomes apparent upon opening the door and seeing the balding bear fur stretched out in the entranceway. After we made it past the fresh veggies and miso paste sold in wooden crates, we plopped ourselves down at a table, were given cold water, and then ordered our lunches.

I went with a heaping bowl of aigakedon, which was basically rice topped with curried beef and pork and kim chee, with generous pinches of grated cabbage and pickled ginger. I was also given miso soup and pickled cucumbers, both of which were surprisingly good.

The meal set me back ¥850 (US $10.75), and I couldn't finish it all. Luckily, my friend helped me out, and when we paid we were given free rice crackers for the drive back to Akita.

I'm not sure where I'll go next weekend, if anywhere, but hopefully I'll find a way out of the city again soon.

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  1. Happy to hear that you are settling in Akita (for the most part). What a lovely trip out of town. Lucky for us that we get to enjoy the views without the heat! Hope your phone service will be installed soon and that you'll get your sofa. 8-)

  2. Have you seen Big Man Japan yet, or has the island not been threatened since you arrived?

  3. I'm looking for you, little sapuche!