Oirase, lake Towada & Morioka

30 April & 1 May 2009

From Hirosaki we went on to the area around lake Towada. We followed a mountain road where we saw snow again (on the way from Tamagawa to Hirosaki, in the National Park, there was also quite some snow still)

Here is one of the things we came for: Yuki-no-Kairo (route of snow). There are several places in Japan where the roads are made snow-free early, leaving some high walls of snow on either side. The most famous (highest walls) is probably at Tateyama (yuki-no-ootani). When this road just opened, the "walls" must have been much higher still!

[HDR] The main point of the day, however, was not the snow, but the Oirase valley. Oirase is famous for the mountain stream and its many waterfalls and general natural scenic beauty.

We went to the lake side (lake Towada) and rented bicycles to explore the valley. Unfortunately they only had "mamachari", meaning the "mother's bicycle", it's the stuff your grandma used... These ones didn't even have gear and (of course) the saddle and handlebar had maximum heights not even appropriate for some modern Japanese people (let alone Dutchmen). But we managed upto the rapid (on the picture here) and back, although back uphill was a challenge at times. After all, it was a great day in nature.

Lake Towada

We almost forgot about gasoline and had some stress finding a stand in this area, in the early evening, but we managed. Then the car navigation couldn't receive a proper GPS signal and totally lost track... But we had a back-up route-map book of Japan and prints of the hotel's "access"-page and found it without too much difficulty. From a navigation point of view that is... The place is in the middel of nowwhere and the road leading us there was "interresting" especially for the driver. Not only steepness, curves and road quality, but also a long series of signs with "mysterious" texts, like puzzles along the way...
But, we made it there, safely.

I said the place was in the middle of nowhere... actually, there is no electricity (they say). No TV, no internet, only oil lamps for light... Great atmosphere. Nice outdoor (and indoor) baths. Tranquility all around...

The place is called Aoni-onsen [JP] (unofficial English page). There are a few more of these "nostalgic", no electricity, only oil lamps "hotels" in Japan. They are generally called "Lampu-no-Yado".

This day we drove from Aoni-onsen to Kitayamazaki on the eastern coast of Tohoku. We stopped in Morioka, a city famous for 2 things: ironware and wanko-soba. This is in the ironware factory (the big and famous one called "Iwachu"). Especially tea caldrons made in Morioka are said to be superb, because they would make the water taste nicer. Many of the most expensive ones used in high-class tea ceremony come from this area (probably not from the industrialized Iwachu factory though...).

There was a little exhibition through which we were guided with extreme speed and then we saw some people making the tea pots and cldrons the oldfashioned way. Then there was of cours an extensive shop (and a separate shop for foreign bus tour tourists with all happy-happy colorful "typical Japan" stuff that Japanese cannot relate to... )

Then there was the second famous thing: wanko soba. The idea is that you get cups with tiny portions of soba (buckwheat) noodles, and you have to eat as many portions as possible, as quick as possible. Well, we left out the quick thing, and we enjoyed the side dishes as well (something you shouldn't do if you go purely for cup-count of course), but my father and I both tried our best. We got quite hungry because lunch was late after spending much time in the Iwachu shop. However, still we "only" managed 110 portions... together, that is. 65 for me and 55 for my father, if we counted right.
Here is a video of how it should go (they start eating at ca. 2 min into the video), we had to count using matchsticks by ourselves though, I guess they ran out of cups and took them away for washing up. If I remember correctly, the biggest eater in the shop we went ate 300-400 cups, and the national champion ate over 550! In 15 minutes!!! The shop we went is quite famous, Azuma-ya (東家).

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