Thursday, March 13, 2008

Winter in Akita

It's Thursday afternoon and I'm back in Yokosuka. I had a lovely time visiting with my friend Nadine, and tomorrow Phil and I are off to Kyoto! The trip is nearing it's end.

So Monday I headed into Tokyo station to take the Shinkansen (that'd be the bullet train) to Akita, which is in the Tohoku region of Northern Japan. I think it's safe to say that it's quite a ways off the beaten path as far as Gaijin tourists are concerned (at least for this time of year). I was very excited to take the shinkansen, actually, and really looking forward to some quality knitting time (it's about a 4 hours train ride from Tokyo).I took the 10:56 train out from Tokyo, which was to put me in Akita city at around 3:00. From there I was to take a taxi to Nadine's school, where she's be waiting with a group of her students.

Things were going swimmingly. I had just finished my sushi lunch, and had paused in my knitting long enough to look outside the window and think "Gosh, this really IS the civilized way to travel!" when things started to go horribly, horribly wrong.

We had stopped at a station along the way (I'll always remember the name, it was the Morioka station) when everybody starts to get off. No worries, I think, the train will soon be on its way again. They're just not going to Akita, that's all. Then a woman stops and basically signals me to get off. "Akita", I say. "Hai! (yes) Hai! Akita!" she says, pointing to herself.

I realize that we ALL have to get off the train. At this point I'm wondering what the Hell I'm going to do now, walking along the platform with all these people speaking Japanese at me, when I come upon the sweetest girl you'd ever want to meet. Her name was Yuko, she was a 17-year old student on her way to Akita to write her college entry exams (she wants to become a chemist), and she spoke a little English. She managed to tell me that the train had been stopped because of snow on the tracks, and that we had to take the next one.

I practically stalked her around the train station, but she was always polite and good humored, asking questions about my trip and offering to let me use her mobile phone to call Nadine in Akita. She was a sweetie, an angel.

Now, I had read that in Japan, when someone does something for you, you're supposed to give them a small gift in return. Certainly not cash (that would be insulting), but a gift of some kind. I wracked my brain as we got back on the train, trying to go over what I had brought with me and feeling desperate that I didn't have anything appropriate to give her.

Then I realized I DID have something to give her, probably the best gift I could ever give: a hand knit item. I had packed my as yet never worn, recently completed Embossed Leaves socks to show off to my girlfriend, and as I gave her feet a quick glance, I realized, miracle of miracles, that they were about the same size as mine. So I wrote her a note, tucked it into one of the socks, and gave them to her when we got off the train. Farewell, dear socks. I hope you'll be loved in your new home.When I was in Akita at last, I took a taxi to Nadine's school, and was met by a welcoming committee of her students to boot. Nadine's school is lovely, and she's very proud of it, as you can see.From there Nadine had a surprise for me. After dropping off our stuff at her apartment, we went back out, and headed to a local Onsen for a spa night, Japanese style. I had really wanted to visit an Onsen while I was here, actually, but I didn't feel comfortable going in there without a guide, you know? Well, after almost 3 years here, Nadine's an Onsen expert, and she took me to her absolute favourite one.

It was great! A little strange at first, because you have to get completely naked almost as soon as you walk through the door, but great. Very therapeutic! There are various baths and pools, with mineralized water and without, all at different temperatures and depths, and you just walk around and dip from one bath to the other. Sheer heaven after a stressful day on the trains.

After our baths, we put on these comfy pajamas, and went to the spa's restaurant for dinner. From there, we headed to the lounge area (leather lounge chairs, each with its own television) for a while, then went back for a dip in the Onsen before heading back to Nadine's apartment.

Tuesday, I walked around Akita while Nadine was at school, and that evening, we went to a, well, I can only describe it as a one-man run whole in the wall restaurant, the kind that most tourists would never dream of going into. Nadine promised that there we would eat the best Oden (sort of a Japanese version of stew) in the city. While there, we happened to run into two of her fellow teachers, and spent a multicultural evening toasting glass after glass of sake in French, English and Japanese.

The next day I took a day trip to nearby Kakunodate, a Samurai town about an hour away from Akita. I got to visit several old Samurai houses and museums, and spent a lovely day walking around this historic town. When I got back to Akita, we had a wonderful sushi dinner, and decided to head back to the Onsen to send me off in style.

Again, I had a great trip and a great visit with Nadine, and got to see a part of Japan and experience things I most certainly would not have had the chance to experience. And for that, I'm truly grateful.

Tomorrow we're off to Kyoto for the final leg of our trip. I don't think we'll have Internet access from our room, so I don't know whether I'll be posting again before we head back to Canada on Tuesday. Check and see!


Caroline said...

That was so nice of you to give your socks to that girl! I'm glad she was able to help you, I would have totally panicked!

Maggie said...

I've been following all your posts from Japan and they're so interesting! It's been really fun to read about your time there, thanks for that! You're so brave to travel all around on your own while Phil is at work, and how lovely for you to be able to see your friend in Akita!

That's a great gift, the handknit socks! She looked thrilled in the photo. :)

Dad said...

Your neighbour Chris and I both agree that you should be a writer. Your words come as alive as your wonderful wool creations (Kate has been introduced to the mitts that you made me - an interesting experience which serves to confirm that wool is a spiritual gift that has and brings life to both the giver and the recipipient). But enough of that, what was the young lady's response to this thoughtful gift?

Much Love
Dad and Margot

Anonymous said...

Hello!! Hello!!
So very good to read your post - you have been so brave running aroud Japan, and brave giving up your gorgeous socks - clearly you need to have some more Maggie-fiber just for you now ;).
I was delighted to meet your Dad's mitts (and your Dad, of course!). He took them off to shake my hand, and I insisted on shaking the mitt too...just to see what it felt like.
See you soon - Hi Philippe. You guys have fun on the last leg.

AliP said...

Oh my freeking Jebus you are just having the MOST amazing trip!
Please bring Japanese yarn samples to knit night, 'k??? Except I might not be there because of our Virginia Beach trip. Dang...
Love love love your pictures and running commentary which is so not boring (unlike somepeople's travel litanies). Those trains are so cool..very futuristic. makes me think of Logan's Run or something.
Come home safe and sound. :oD

Sereknitty said...

You really are having the experience of a lifetime! Thanks for sharing it with us. I'm sure the lovely gift of your handmade socks will be something that is never forgotten and likely fodder for a story to tell her grandkids down the road. What goes around, comes around ...

Anonymous said...


Thank you for your lovely socks. I'm so glad. And I was surprised by your nitting skill and that casual meeting. That time was happy. Thank you for understanding my poor English. An English necessity was felt strongly. I want to study English more, and to go to Canada.

It is possible to have tested without being strained. The result is only waited for.

Moreover, I was surprised because I was reflected when your blog was seen.

Hereafter,I want to see your blog.


p.s. I want to do knitting as good as you.

Jennifer said...


Forget the Yarn Harlot's travelling socks - you've got Mitzvah socks!!!*

Is that really Yuko who commented above me?

I can't get over your trip. Octopus balls. Squatting to pee. Bullet trains. Yarn o'plenty. Naked with strangers. I can only imagine what you're leaving out!

You're a braver woman than I, my friend. :)xlrxyszz

*Mitzvah is any act of human kindness...good

Knit & Purl Mama said...

Wow - what a kind thing you did by giving those socks to a nice woman who helped you out! It's great you had those socks to give her! I also would have totally panicked not knowing I had to get off of the train to switch trains.

That's great that you were able to experience a side of Japan that you wouldn't have of without your friend living there. Sounds neat!