We're back! We had an absolutely fantastic time! I feel like we walked into another world and another time span and have reluctantly returned to everyday life. So much to tell, so much to show, so much to think about.
After dropping off Choco at the vet, Tetsu and I drove the long 6 hour trip up to Morioka in Tohoku, the northern part of Japan. To get there we passed through Fukushima Prefecture and Miyagi Prefecture, finally arriving in Iwate Prefecture. These three prefectures were hit hardest by the March earthquake and tsunami.
From the very well maintained expressway, the scenery seems hardly to have changed at all (we were not near the coast). But at each off-ramp there were many cars waiting to go through the tollbooths because the Japan government is allowing free passage on the expressways if a driver can show proof of property damage due to the earthquake or tsunami. This means that MOST of the people in these prefectures who use the expressway need to line up to validate their free passage (which we also qualified for because of our TV antenna damage.) And the whole way up to Morioka, we noticed that the running news on the car radio dealt with the area's earthquake and tsunami rebuilding. Other than that it seemed that life in the central part of the Tohoku region goes on much the same...
After a few stops at service and parking areas maintained by the expressway (they are so nice with gift shops and food courts and vegetable markets) we finally arrived in Morioka and went directly to our family grave. Yes, pretty grown over but after an hour of weeding and scrubbing it was looking pretty good. The cemetery is way up on the top of a hillside and overlooks Morioka City. (Ours is the "red" stone in this picture.)
For being a cemetery, it has a welcoming, cheerful feeling about it and as the Christian population is so small we actually "know" many of the people laid to rest there. Our main reason for coming to Morioka was fulfilled by our grave visit in about an hour.
The other reason I wanted to visit Morioka was to have Tetsu experience a wonderful hot spring Japanese inn. Tetsu loves hot springs. As you know, we go off to neighboring hot springs regularly on weekends. But Tetsu is NOT particular about where we go. There can be karaoke bars in the next room over, bus loads of tourists being dropped off, busy soba restaurants serving patrons lounging around at low tables, a lot of hub bub and noise. I always take a book to enjoy after a bath but sometimes have a hard time finding a place to sit quietly and read. And we have NEVER stayed overnight at a hot spring together... and this is what I wanted to Tetsu to enjoy.
Three years ago when I visited Morioka alone, my friend Nobuko-san took me and some former missionaries to this hot spring and I have never forgotten it. I absolutely had to bring Tetsu to this far away place set apart from the world! The inn is up on the side of a hill overlooking a quiet lake. The building is softly lit with wooden halls and tatami floors. No chairs, no beds, no sofas. Just big windows looking out on the lake and gardens.
The first thing we did after arriving was to change into yukata, cotton kimono provided by the inn and then head for the outdoor bath. My goodness! Talk about quiet! I was alone in a huge boulder filled outdoor pool and on the other side of a tall wooden wall, Tetsu was enjoying a similar solitary experience. The cold air, the hot bath. The stars above and pampass grass dancing in the breeze.
"Ready to go in? It's probably time for dinner."
Tetsu and I could talk to each other through the wooden wall.
Dinner was a simple/elaborate meal of vegetables and rice... Sashimi, tempura, grilled fish and a few morsels of meat. We enjoyed our meal in the main dining area but only one other family was staying at the inn that night so we felt as if we had the whole atmosphere to ourselves.
After dinner we were invited to take our chopsticks to a hibachi corner where we could paint them as we liked and then be able to take them home when we left. A simple but pleasant way to spend an evening thinking of something artistic to put on the tiny "canvas" in front of us. I chose a rainbow... I must have had my bargello quilt on my mind, and Tetsu, in typical Tetsu color and style, printed his and my name in psychedelic design.
And then it was time to settle into the fluffy futon. (I think Tetsu went back for another bath....) Our first day!