Going to Iwaki city. (Day 3)

On August 23rd, our last full day in Fukushima, my husband, his cousin and her youngest son and I, went to Iwaki city. A place that has earned much fame during the past 5 months, but not because of scenic views, famous buildings, amazing local dishes or other such tourist things. In fact Iwaki is not famous for such positive things of any kind, there is a lot darker reason behind the now known city name. Iwaki was one of the cities, which ended up a victim for the great tsunami that followed the biggest Japanese earthquake back in March.

This was how Iwaki was seen across the world when the tsunami made headlines:

I am not sure why I wanted to visit Iwaki. A place, which has witnessed more horror, more sorrow, more grief and more tears than any place deserves. For some reason I was drawn to the place. Not because I wanted to say, “I was there”, but because I wanted to see it with my own eyes. Back when the earthquake and tsunami hit, while watching the news I felt so much pain. Not just for the people who lost their lives, but also for the people who was left behind, those who had lost loved ones and those who had lost everything they owned.

So, there we were, on our way from Koriyama city to Iwaki city an around 2-hour drive. On the way, the regular highway signs announced the upcoming cities and the connected exists, I couldn’t help but looking even closer at the sign announcing Soma city – the city of the nuclear plant.  I looked to the side and I could spot blocked roads, telling people not to enter what has now become a ghost town.

We reached Iwaki city and first we went to the nearest harbour. Already there the sign was evident. Trees and fences were bended, houses and buildings were missing and others were in ruin. It felt unreal. We drove along the seaside and saw more devastation.

Iwaki had cleaned up all the garbage the tsunami left, like, wood, personal items, cars and even ships. That garbage was still located on big lots, located in various places. Seeing that such things, just a few months back, was lingering in the streets of the city also had an impact.

There were a lot of places that were recognizable from the news. Also the cousin stopped a lot of places and said in a quiet voice, “I saw this place in the newspaper”. Also she seemed to be affected by everything.

She also stopped by a 7-eleven, or what was left of one and mentioned the news again.

Outside the store was a figure what had “let’s do our best, Iwaki” written on it. I had seen so many “Let’s do our best, Japan/Tohoku/Fukushima” signs, but that one was memorable.

I think everyone in the car was affected by what we saw. Even the cousin’s young son kept saying “ひどいね” (It’s terrible.) It truly was.

That evening, the cousin showed me Iwaki on a map, telling me that it was only located 25 km from the nuclear plant (20 km being the safe zone), which I didn’t know. I started asking more about their personal experiences and I listened intensely. How they experienced the shaking, the sound of dozens of helicopters flying towards the nuclear plant above their house, how they tried to seal the house from outside air, the empty supermarkets and the long queues of people hoping to get a little gas for their car.

There was so much I wanted to know and the family had so much to tell.


A trip around Fukushima and Aizu city (Day 2)

August 22nd was our first full day in Fukushima. That day my husband’s relatives had planned a trip to famous places in Fukushima prefecture, including Aizu city and Tsurugajo castle. Already around 9 o’clock in the morning we got into the car. My husband, his cousin, his aunt, his eldest uncle and the cousin’s son and I filled out the seven-person car pretty well. I was actually still trying to figure out who exactly was living in the house we stayed in, but I did like the feeling of finally being apart of a “bigger” family. Due to getting to bed too late and getting up too early I quickly felt asleep during the drive. Our first stop was some kind of cave area; I unfortunately didn’t catch the name of.

You crossed a wide lake on a bridge, which liked to sway beneath your feet. After walking up some very steep stairs there was a small shrine, after that we returned to the car. After some more driving, we reached Ouchijuku. A small, isolated village surrounded by the many mountains of Fukushima. This village has been kept in the original style and shape, with some similarities to the famous Shirakawa-go in Gifu prefecture.

Of course this was just a small version, with one main street, but it was still interesting and there was a lot of old styled shops selling candy, souvenirs, ingredients and etc. There were also a lot of soba restaurants and ice cream shops. My husband’s aunt bought us soft ice cream with sesame flavour, which were surprisingly good.

Then we got into the car, yet again and went to the main attraction of the day, Tsurugajo Castle in Aizu city. The castle had recently been through renovation, where the roof tiles also got reverted from grey back to the original red colour, which is a unique colour among the castles of Japan. For me, who has already seen a great amount of Japanese castles, the red tile colour also seemed to be what stood out the most about this particular castle.

Tsurugajo castle that has a very good size, white walls, a nice garden and nature area and then the pretty red tiles, was surely worth the visit. Especially since I love seeing Japanese castles, since they’re all unique and special in their own way – even though most of them are copies of castles, which burned down centuries ago.

After that we looked for a place to eat and for some reason the uncle had decided that it had to be a ramen restaurant. We ended up in a restaurant/museum, which was a truly interesting experience. Not so much that we were the only people in the building. More that it was an original, big house from very old times. When we entered we took our shoes of by the door and we were then led into a big room with tatami floors. There was a lot of small tables and pillows to sit on, we all sic sat down and ordered our food. After eating this late lunch, it was time to head home and once again I fell asleep in the car, but this time around, the aunt, the cousin’s son and my husband joined me.

My husband and I went to our room to relax and he also continued his nap, until around 8 o’clock where we were offered a late dinner. A very delicious dinner and then all of us watched television and talked until it was time for bed.

A daring trip to Fukushima (Day 1)

Sunday August 21st was a rather busy day for my husband and I. First we had promised to meet a group of his friends around 11 am at a restaurant, that one of the friends owned which meant we had it to ourselves. His friend served us all kinds of amazing fish dishes that made me eat even when I was past full. I enjoyed the company of his friends, who also had a lot of interesting questions to ask me. Questions which was heard to hear at times due to a lot of energetic children running around.

We could not stay longer than a few hours though, since we later had an appointment with a Shinkansen departure (Bullet Train). Actually my husband was stalling things a bit, that resulted in us rushing bit to get to Tokyo station in time. Our destination was the recently famous Fukushima prefecture. The prefecture, which is home for the unstable nuclear reactor that has been close to, a meltdown since The Great Earthquake back in March. Our reason for going to Fukushima prefecture is to visit some of my husband’s relatives who live in Koriyama – around 50 kilometres from the nuclear reactor. The Japanese safety zone is 20 kilometres, but Europe seem to think the safety zone should be bigger, some even think around 80 kilometres is preferred. So saying the nuclear reactor was not on my mind a bit, would be a lie. My husband seemed to fear the big earthquake that still frequently hits Fukushima, even reaching 5 on the Richter scale.

So around one and half hour later we arrived at Koriyama station and met my Husband’s cousin who was there to pick us up. We drove around 10-15 minutes and then arrived to a house. Inside there were four people to greet us; the cousin’s son, her parents (my husband’s uncle and aunt) and another uncle. We sat down around a table in the living room and I quickly started admiring the house, which was bigger than I imagined. (I was used to the size of some houses in the Japanese country side, but this one just seemed far more fancy) It seemed newly renovated, but still had a lot of traditional Japanese feel to it. As it got later more family members started to arrive (the cousin’s brother and sister and their families) and also the cousin’s two other sons returned. I lost track of the amount of people who suddenly surrounded me and even though my stomach was filled from lunch, I did my best to eat some of all the food with was put in front us (huge amount of sushi, fried things, vegetables, etc.).

There was a lot of talk about “The Great Earthquake“, especially questions about where my husband was when it stroke and their own location. The family had a lot of personal experiences about that terrible day back in March to tell about and hearing it from a first-hand-sources was a great experience. Something very different.

It became very late before we got to take a shower and was showed our room upstairs. Before we went to sleep we were told that tomorrow’s departure was 9 o’clock, where the destination was the Aizu area and the Aizu castle.

Trip to Tokyo Disneyland

On August 11th my husband and I went on a trip to Tokyo Disneyland. Even though I had stayed in Tokyo three times over longer periods I’d never had the opportunity to visit the famous amusement park.

Despite it being on a regular Thursday, the park was like just like most of the densely populated areas of Japan, filled with people. Making me grateful I didn’t have to witness the park on a Sunday. My husband and I had tried to avoid the unmerciful Japanese summer sun, by arriving at the park around 2 pm, which made walking around the park more bearable.

The weather and the amount of people was of course wasn’t what surprised; it was more the size of the park. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I had expected Disneyland to be bigger and offering a lot more of interesting scenery. Not that the park didn’t have any scenery to offer, it was divided into several areas with unique Disney themes, like the Toy Story/Monsters Inc, Alice in Wonderland and Lilo & Stitch. There were also areas inspired by things such as the old west, New Orleans and others. Everything seemed very neatly done, even the famous Japanese vending machines were designed to match their assigned area.

There is no doubt that Disneyland is foremost catering the small children, which was obvious for many reasons, of course one was the fact that small children was the most populous people in the park. There was no scary looking rides, except the haunted house which is a bit disappointing to a rollercoaster loving person as me – since Disneyland only had one rollercoaster to offer, but I didn’t even find that interesting enough to stand in line for. And then there was the overwhelming amount of strollers waiting outside each ride.

There is no doubt that the biggest minus concerning Tokyo Disneyland is the amount of people. When we were just walking around in the park I didn’t notice it much nor were I bothered, the problem came when we looked at signs outside rides informing on the expected waiting time. 75% of the times the sign could inform us that we were expected to wait around 110 minutes and that was if the queue actually started where the sign was put. That resulted in the fact that my husband and I only tried one thing.
We did get in line for another thing, thinking that maybe 100+ minutes didn’t feel as long at they sounded – we were wrong. After waiting around a half an hour I started mentioning the option of giving up, but we continued. After an hour of waiting I suddenly remembered the famous “Disney Dream Lights” evening parade. We checked the clock and knew if we stayed, we would not make it. So after having waited for around 70 minutes we left the line and started to search for a place to watch the parade from. We were guided to a “sitting spot” along the main “street” were the parade would come by. Then 19:40 the music started and the parade had begun.

For me choosing the parade over the ride was the right decision, since the Dream lights parade was the biggest high light of Tokyo Disneyland for me. I loved the sparkling and colourful lights and the wonderland feeling.
After the show was over people, including us, headed for the exit. I kind of regretted not having tried more rides, especially since the tickets are far from cheap which made me feel that I owed my husband, who had paid, the have enjoyed the day more, but overall I saw it as an interesting experience, but not sure I would return.

Having two blogs.

My vacation is running out and I’ll resume university activities on Monday and that will take up a lot of my time. Which is a bit annoying when I have two blogs I feel I haven’t updated properly. There’s a lot of things from my trip to Japan I wish to share and blog about on this blog, like I mentioned in my previous post. But, I also have my other blog (Japan Diary), which I rarely update since it takes longer to write.

That is a blog where I post a translated version of the travel diary I kept during my 9 weeks of travel in Japan last year – the travel where I met my husband. It’s not so much a travel blog, more a personal drama taking place in Japan, where I try to share all the everyday experiences you can have in a foreign country, which is not necessarily famous tourist spots or delicious restaurants. It’s what could happen when you http://japanobsession.wordpress.com/ to live with families instead of staying at hotels, the people you can meet, the places you can see, the hardships you can face and even the happiness and heart ache you may feel. Overall true and very personal travel experiences about traveling around in Japan and ending of meeting a person that later on came to mean the world to me. Link: http://japanobsession.wordpress.com/ (also in the link sidebar)

But, I finally got around to write an update today on that blog, which I guess I would also share here. Also to mention that I do my best to put time aside to make updates on both. I hope to also have an update for this blog today, so I will be able to start crossing “Wish-to-do-posts” of my list.

Have a nice weekend everybody.