Date: Wed, 27 May 1998

Day four part two - We got off the train in Sendai, which the guide book and the otoosan said to do. The whole trip took two hours, a distance of 351.8 kilometers. With five stops, we still averaged about 105mph! Pretty cool. We got on the local train to Matsushima-kaigan, which is what the guide book said to do. The otoosan's directions took the same train to Takagi, but the tourist information center was at Matsushima. We went to the tourist center, and a nice lady with a pure anime laugh (for those of you who know the 'maybe this big' story, it's the same laugh) told me my Japanese was 'perfect' and told us to get back on the train one more stop to Takagi. Doh. This took another 30 minutes since we just got OFF the train. The guide book said that most stuff closed at 5pm, and it was already 2pm. We caught the train to Takagi, and headed to Sakuragawa Ryokan.

My impression of the ryokan is the same as what my eventual impression of the whole area: it's one of those places that 15 or 20 years ago was probably a really nice place, but is now rather run down and is perpetuated merely because the surrounding area is worth seeing. It's kind of like Sea Arama, a Sea World clone in Galveston that Kati and I visited too many times to count with the YMCA and which could never quite afford anyhing more than a pair of cranky dolphins. The ryokan was slightly creaky all over. The room contained a fridge, a tv, a pay Nintendo 8-bit system, and seven dirty videotapes viewable through a pay VCR. The futon were nice, but everything just felt OLD. And not old in the antique sense.

Don't get me wrong, Matsushima is beautiful. It's made up of like 200 little islands that dot the landscape. They're very pretty. But the buildings and people are rather dated. We got back to Matsushima-kaigan at 2. This of course left us very little time to go wandering about. A ways down the street we stopped at a little grilled seafood vendor and Kelly, being the bold culinary adventurer that she is, bought a corn dog, which she said 'tasted like chicken'. Around the corner we found a temple entrance.

We were looking for a trash can when this lady came up and offered to take the trash. She then exclaimed, 'Texas?' noting my UT sweatshirt. To the best of my knowledge, this is what happened next. She led us to a staircase in the back of her shop that led to a spectacular view and a beautiful old traditional Japanese house. When we came back down, she gave us these Japanese flag pins, then explained that the shopkeeper down the street had a daughter studying in Houston. She then very excitedly asked if we were going to Kyoto and if we wanted to stay in a temple. At the time I wasn't sure what she meant, so I nodded and she dragged us into her shop. She proceeded to make frantic phone calls all the while asking us when we'd be in Kyoto. Lest we commit to anything further, I told her we really didn't know when, but to give us the phone number. She was interrupted by a phone call so we politely thanked her and left.

We entered into the temple garden, which was an exquisite forest with gargantuan trees and caves nearby. We opted not to enter into the temple proper, as this cost 1200 for the two of us. We wandered back out, somewhat wary that the nice lady might accost us with kindness again.

Across the street, I purchased tickets to ride the sightseeing boat that the guidebook said offered 'a great view of the islands of Matsushima.' We bought some Pocky (small chocolate-covered crunchy breadsticks) and boarded the boat. Perhaps the first clue that this wasn't such a good idea should have been the extreme lack of people. Aside from us, only the crew boarded. The second clue was the lady who came over and asked something. I did catch the 'futatsu', so I nodded my head. She came back with two cups of coffee so small I didn't know whether to drink or start sewing. I started to dump in the creamer, and the woman reappeared, this time with a calculator; the display read 600. Kel strained to keep in her laughter. This was a recurring theme over the next 45 minutes. Fortunately, I didn't have it in change, so she only took what I had, refusing the 1000 bill. She did then bring us macadamias and 'French Fried Almonds' which she didn't make us pay for, thankfully. We spent the next 45 minutes bobbing around the choppy waters (when did they get choppy?) looking at all the little islands. And boy there were a lot of them. Halfway through the voyage, I consulted the very same map the ticket lady had shown me when I purchased the tickets. I knew we weren't ending up in the same place we left, but I thought we were going to Matsushima-kaigan again. Wrong again. We were headed halfway around the bay. Fortunately there was a handy train station within a kilometer. All the while, Kelly is grinning like mad and snickering at me. 'You know, for the price of the coffee, one of us could have gone in to the temple...' We returned via train to Sakuragawa, stopping at 7-11 along the way for food, as it was after 5, and everything was closed. We ate dinner and Kel discovered two things: a) Doritos are taco flavored here, and b) Japanese-style toilets. Kel returned after a brief trip to the toilet, eyes wide open in confusion and terror.

'Did you go?' I asked. She shook her head no.
'Why not?'
'It's...just a....hole in the floor.'

Ah, the Japanese squattie potties. Something that must be seen to be believed.

I then went and took a Japanese public bath in which you wash outside the tub and then get in and soak. After nearly breaking my neck sitting, slipping, and falling off the baby-sized stool, I opted for the shower nozzle. When I stepped into the boiling hot 12x4x4 foot tub though, all my stress went steaming away. 'I have GOT to get me one of THESE!' I exclaimed. On the way back I passed by the remains of what would have been our dinner had we opted for it. Steamed dungeness crab and a variety of Japanese seafood served in the room. Waaaaaaaa! It was all I could do to not to grab the half crab remaining on someone's plate outside their room. :( We went to bed on our nice soft futon at an elderly 8:30.

It's Kel. If you're still reading after all this time you must be really bored. I should edit the HTML so the title reads 'Marc Hernandez Does Japan.' We are once again on The Train Ride To Hell, where we will one day in the next millenium end up in Sapporo or the North Pole, who knows which. Here's my short and sweet summary of yesterday -- we rode more trains, saw a temple, got suckered into a tour of the River Styx, and met a nice lady who Marc probably sold our souls to. I had a lot of fun! :) (I really did!)

Lessons Kelly Has Learned So Far

1. Japan is a FOREIGN country.
2. And being sick while there is something I wouldn't recommend.
3. Marc likes to narrate his video. If you come over to watch and I stay in the other room don't take it personally.
4. You never realize how much you like the ability to carry on a conversation until it's gone. That and pizza.
5. They sell PlayStation games at the 7-11.
6. Trains, while fun for the first twelve hours, suck after that.
7. But it is a FUN country.

And this is only after 5 days. No wonder they say studying abroad is so educational. :) --- Kelly

:: Beginning : Tokyo : Matsushima : Hakodate : Sapporo : Kyoto : Hiroshima : Beppu : Shikoku : Tokyo : The End : Travel Notes ::

Marc Hernandez :: Kelly Bickford