I popped into a ‘net cafe in Sendai first thing, mostly just to kill some time before my hostel opened and I could stash my luggage there. Sendai had surprisingly few options on the websites, and the place I ended up staying was clearly run by an older Japanese couple and while it was a business, they hadn’t really modernized much. I couldn’t even book online – I called them and managed to reserve a room in mangled Japanese. It was lovely though, particularly because they were virtually empty: I’d paid for a multi-person room, but I was the only person in it. It was spacious, and the heater was very effective. (A bit confusing though. They like kerosene heaters here, and I’m always a bit twitchy about my Press Random Buttons method of turning them on – I worry that they’ll SPONTANEOUSLY EXPLODE! even though that is of course extremely improbable.)
I hit the hostel at about 9am, before dashing off to hit the sites of Sendai. I made a mistake here, however. Toyama has been quite warm – almost 70 degrees. Kyoto and Nara were warm too, and so was Tokyo. Nikko was a bit chilly, but only when it was windy. I assumed, foolishly, that Sendai would also be nice.
Sendai was not nice. Sendai was freezing. Far from the 70 of Toyama, Sendai couldn’t have been above 40, and the lighter jacket I was wearing was definitely not warm enough. If I stayed in the sun, it was just about okay. Still, I kept on – I hit a museum full of bronze statues of naked ladies and heads, which was interesting but I did eventually want to find the artist and take him aside and say “Okay, yes, the nude form is lovely but it is mildly creepy that you have made so many naked lady statues. Have you considered clothed models? Surely the folds of fabric would make a new and exciting challenge!” I went to the site of the old Sendai castle, but it’s not actually there anymore. There’s also a museum dedicated to the history of the city. They’re very fond of their noble family, the Dates, and in particular the head of the family, Masamune. (The unofficial symbol of Sendai appears to be an onigiri wearing Masamune’s samurai hat, which had a distinctive crescent moon emblem on the front. It’s very cute.)
The city museum had free English audio guides, which was splendid. I learned about some guy who went off to Europe to bring back missionaries from Rome, though his efforts were thwarted when the Japanese government decided – in the middle of his trip – that they weren’t interested in missionaries visiting, Thank You Very Much, and were instead interested in executing Christians. So that failed, though they had interesting artifacts from his trip including a portrait of the Pope, various prints of the Japanese nobleman who went from European sources, and a beautiful certificate from the Vatican granting the nobleman and Date Masamune Roman citizenship. There were wooden cannons that apparently fired clay cannonballs, the armor of various of the Date clan, some beautiful old obi worn by one of the ladies, possibly Masamune’s wife.
My feet were kind of killing me though. I’ve mostly been wearing my Fuji Boots, for the extremely practical reason of “they don’t fit in my bags” but I did bring along a pair of cheap ballet flats and I’d taken my stop at the hostel as an opportunity to change shoes. This was dumb though, as the ballet flats have virtually no support, and were therefore uncomfortable after about 3 hours of walking.
To be fair, most shoes are uncomfortable after three hours of walking. But the boots are of course built for hiking, so even when my feet are sore in them it is a different type of sore that is easier to keep walking through.
I’d walked back into town because I was starving and also because I wanted to rest my feet for a while, only to find that the restaurant I wanted was closed – it was that awkward, 3pm-ish time between lunch and dinner. But the restaurant came recommended, so I grabbed a sandwich and a coffee and sat for a while reading a book I bought in England about the spice trade. It’s not something I read straight through, obviously – I tend to pick it up and put it down haphazardly, though of course it’s full of interesting information. Japan is essentially unrepresented however, due to their general policy of isolationism.
Awesome Spice Fact: the Aztecs believed that chocolate was improved virility and stamina, and not just in the bedroom. Soldiers going off to battle would be given little packets of ground cocoa to carry with them, so that they could make ‘instant chocolate’ when they made camp.
After I finished my coffee and my sandwich, I went off to find the Zuihoden Mausoleum, which houses Masamune and his son and grandson and also some later, unimportant Date lords. I got a bit twisted around here – my map, which was generally quite good, made it look as though I could take one road and it would be shorter, but after walking that way for some time and noticing that the sidewalk sort of petered out and so did the shoulder, I stopped a Japanese lady who was going the opposite direction to check. She essentially told me no, you can’t get there from here, and led me to the right path. (I think she thought I was lost, but I didn’t have the Japanese to tell her that no, I wasn’t lost so much as confused about which road was a viable path. But she was very helpful.) As it turned out, there wasn’t much to see at the mausoleum at all. The building which housed Masamune was closed off from the public for no reason I could see, but I looked at the outside of the buildings that held his son and grandson. Still, for a goal that included a long hill with a nearly 40 degree incline, it was disappointing. I assume it would have been more awesome if I’d been able to see the star attraction.
By this time, the Indian restaurant was bound to be open again – walking everywhere is a grand way to kill time without spending money, though it’s a bit hard on the feet and problematic when the weather is cold. The Indian restaurant was delicious, though not nearly as spicy as I’d hoped – I ordered a dish listed as “very spicy,” but clearly they were working with Japanese standards rather than Indian standards. I was hoping for something a bit hotter, though they came by to check it wasn’t too hot.
I always expect things to be hotter than they are. Ever since I went to My Thai in Chicago and was taken seriously when I asked for my meal to be “very hot” – and wow, it was painfully delicious but I loved it, it was like a hot pad sitting in my belly when I went out into the cold Chicago weather – I have been consistently disappointed by the lack of fire in other dishes.
Anyhow, after a very tasty curry, I walked back to the hostel – and by now it was dark and damn cold and honestly, I could have used that spicy hot pad – and turned up the kerosene and took a much needed shower. After the last two nights in busses, I decided to call it an early night, and to get up the next morning for a trip to Matsushima.
Matsushima is supposed to be beautiful, and I suppose it probably is when it’s not cold and rainy. But there isn’t really that much to see – there’s a temple, which was, you know, fine, but I’ve seen kind of a lot of temples recently and between Nara and Nikko they were far more impressive than Matsushima had to offer. There was a tea house, that was cold. And there were some little islands that were indeed lovely, but rainy and wet.
Also, it turns out I’m allergic to aspirin! Who knew?
This is kind of a convoluted story – it starts a month ago, when I took some aspirin early in the morning and went back to sleep, only to wake up an hour later itching like crazy and worried that my futon had somehow been infested with bedbugs. I was flushed with little white blotches and when I couldn’t find any bugs I thought maybe I was having some sort of reaction to detergent – aspirin never even crossed my mind. It was actually kind of nervewracking – not only was I itchy, but when I got in the shower to see if that would help, the steam made me so dizzy I actually fell over. But that passed and I had work to go to and so I ate an English muffin and went to school and had no more symptoms. And then I was in Nagoya and I had a headache and I took some more aspririn, and about 40 minutes later I was itching again, and my wrists were flushed and covered in little white blotches. I was of course worried that I’d get dizzy and fall over again, but I just told my companion about it and was like “I might need to sit down, clearly I am allergic to something.”
I still wasn’t connecting it to the aspirin, because I was so sure I’d had aspirin before as a child, and surely somebody would have noticed.
But I didn’t get dizzy that time, I think because no sooner did we get to the temple with the festival than I immediately bought a delicious Beef On A Stick and then a baked potato and both were delicious.
But then I had more aspirin at Matsushima, and bam what do you know, I was itching again, and I thought Oh, fuck, three times is clearly not coincidence. Three times is proof. But I remembered that in Nagoya the effects were much less severe what with the fair food, and that the first time the symptoms didn’t come back after my English muffin, so I ate some rice crackers and did not get dizzy.
I can live with the itching, if I have to. I really am not interested in the “falling over” aspect, which fortunately has not been repeated. Having something to eat seems to be the key.
Still, it made my trip to Matsushima a lot less pleasant, and then it started to snow, and I decided that it was time to head back to Sendai and do something inside. I ended up wandering around Sendai Station, which has a lot of shops inside, and then walking around the covered shopping roads. I looked down the uncovered roads lined with trees that are in some way special, but frankly, the trees didn’t have any leaves and that made them a lot less special than they might otherwise have been. I decided that I have, in fact, seen quite a few trees and I probably didn’t need to see these ones from any closer.
I called it a bit of an early night again – I didn’t feel like going out to a club, and I’d actually covered most of Sendai on the day before. I stopped off at the ‘net cafe again, this time without my own laptop, and was reminded of exactly how painful the internet used to be back when it was hideous and slow and so were computers.
Interesting fact actually related to Japan: miso has been found to be very beneficial to victims of radiation poisoning, which the Japanese have of course extensive experience treating. As a result, in an extremely kind but also helpful gesture, the Japanese shipped approximately a bahillion tons of miso to the victims of the Chernobyl meltdown. But miso is sort of a weird substance, made of fermented soy beans (as is natto, but unlike natto, miso is not hideously vile) and no doubt the recipients of the generous gift had a reaction more in line with “what the hell? than genuine thanks. Hopefully the Japanese included some sort of instruction, or recipe suggestion at the very least.