It’s been exactly a month since my last post, which while unintentional gives this a rather nice sense of balance. In that time the trees have gone from yellow to red to brown, and the snowline has crept from its dramatic perch atop distant mountains to fall for the first time down at ground level. Over the course of the day a thin but persistent dusting has built up, and it’s only going to get deeper form here on out. Winter preparation in the form of wooden teepee-esque structures over trees and supports for their branches, as well as the removal of certain road barriers and the erection of others, seems to be nearing completion. All that’s left now is for the temperature to plummet.
Oh wait, that’s happened too. Outside lows at set to hit -8 degrees this week, and it’s normally about 7 degrees indoors when I return home. My windows are single glazed, my walls are paper thin, but at least I have a paraffin heater to keep me company one room at a time.
However, the real subject of this update is the recent visit of my parents and 6 bulging bags of goodies from home.
Stage One: Tokyo
We (Jaz and I) met up (with my parents) in Tokyo first, for what would be a very unseasonably warm (by Yamagata standards) weekend. We’d all seen this wonderful city before, so the pressure was off when it came to seeing touristy sights. Jet-lag for 50% of the party didn’t help matters. Nevertheless, we made it to the Meiji Shrine and Yoyogi Park, two favourite haunts, in time to catch sunset and allow the two who needed it a nap on the grass. Our first cat café also featured.
Subsequent days were a little more active. Shinjuku Gyoen showed us wonderful autumn colours, and the Tokyo National Museum was interesting for me at least. The ladies got to dress up and show up the boys, as you may have gathered from the explosion of photos on Facebook last week.
A further highlight was a lamb festival, held in Nagano, which led not only to some cutout photos (which are excellent for posterity) and absurdly long lines for decent-enough lamb, but also to an entertaining cross-cultural lesson. Nigel bought some (soft) drinks while Jaz and I queued up for lamb kebabs, and was half way down his ‘very tasty lemonade’ before it was pointed out to him that, as chū-hai, it ran about 6% ABV. It seems that even unintentionally, my parents are determined to get the drinks in while on holiday.
Stage Three: Yamagata
‘Stage Three’ because my parents cruelly decided to go to Kanazawa after Tokyo rather than come straight to me. By the sound of it they had a great time with Jaz, but as I was slaving away at work I can’t speak for them with any certainty.
Their arrival in Nanyo occurred latish on Tuesday night. The legendary Ryu-Shanghai Ramen being closed, we went to Yamagata (and personal) favourite Tonpachi for some tonkatsu before considering the precise logistics of fitting three people into my apartment. The advantage of tatami and futons is that one can sleep pretty much anywhere, and there was just enough floor space to allow us to do so.
On Wednesday we went to school/work and were greeted with some matcha and mini-tea-ceremony hospitality, courtesy of some of my students. After photos we were chivvied up to have tea with the principal and only just escaped fast enough to be 10 minutes late for the first lesson.
Brian and I had planned the lessons to be an interview, where the kids would ask questions and receive answers entirely in English. In the most part it worked very well, once parental expectations about their language ability were managed! At break time and after the final lesson we were once again frog-marched by the vice principal back into the principal’s office. Thankfully the latter’s charisma makes up for his lack of English.
Subsequent days we spent around Nanyo and Yamagata, taking in the autumn colours and eating the most melt-in-the-mouth beef imaginable, as well as proving Lonely Planet more or less right when they devoted a single apologetic paragraph to our prefecture’s capital.
The real highlight of any trip to Yamagata, however, is Yamadera. This marks (if memory serves) my fourth trip there so far. What is a gruelling, sweaty trudge in summer becomes a cool skip in Autumn, however, with a view even better than usual.
Yamadera would be our one truly excellent day of weather. Any hopes we might have had to climb some holy mountains were well and truly dashed by the utterly accurate weather forecast. So, off to Sendai we went.
My first brush with this city had been in high summer, and with a local guide, while the second had been a bit too boozy to properly appreciate its geography. It was good, therefore, to get a tourist’s-eye view of the place at a temperature I could function in.
After a bit of wandering and shopping for a sewing kit (of all things), we strode off with purpose to Sendai’s main attraction, the Zuihoden. This is the mausoleum of Tohoku daimyo, one-eyed Yonezawa local boy and all-round city-founding good chap Date Masamune. The amount of colour on the gates and halls themselves is quite out of character, but one might expect as much from someone with such audacious headgear.
And just like that, time was up. Having rounded off the trip with Jack’s Big o’ Furniture Shop IV: The Reckoning, it was time to pack bags and huddle round a table to eat some home-cooked shabu shabu.
Stay tuned soon for The Winterising Post because this ordeal is too big to fit into one day or one blog post.