Day 19 - Aizu Wakamatsu

Trip Start Nov 03, 2005
Trip End Dec 07, 2005

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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The night before (after all the nigorizake), I fell asleep before any of the others (I can always count on alcohol as a sedative - a trait from dad's side of the family). My slumber was only slightly interrupted when I found a suspicious white splodge on my face (luckily it was just shaving cream). Unfortunately for Mike, the perpetrator, it didn't have the desired effect. In my intoxicated state I just said "Ahh, now my skin's all soft and silky" and promptly went back to sleep.

After yesterday's transport stuffup, we had to cram both our Aizu Wakamatsu and Mt.Bandai plans into one day.

Aizu as a city wasn't really much to see, but then again we had IYANA TENKI (crap weather) so I'm a bit biased. The castle, Tsuruga-jo was pretty dull on the outside. However the inside had a really cool museum. Too bad we couldn't understand any of the exhibit descriptions. Like Kagoshima's Meiji museum, this place had many pictures depicting the war between the samurai and the Meiji Government. This time however, the focus was more on the samurai viewpoint and the BYAKKOTAI (the 19 young samurai who committed suicide). It would appear that the city of Aizu is extremely proud of their samurai heritage even up to this day.

Outside the castle we found a well that looked a bit like the one from the movie RINGU. Spooky stuff, but very beautiful. We also checked out a pitiful tea ceremony house. Kinda pointless unless you're going there to drink tea, but we weren't going to pay 500 just for a cup of tea - ceremony or not (KECCHI!).

After I nearly got ditched by the others while taking a long distance photo of them, we set off for the samurai estate, Aizu-Bukeyashiki. The estate was a beautiful building with an incredible (bordering on ridiculous) amount of rooms. We learnt that many wives and children of samurai, believing themselves to be the cause of bad luck, committed suicide there.

And now for another 'Oh yeah, I just remembered something' moment. Mike wanted to try one of those suspicious looking OMIYAGE (souvenir foods) from Aizu. We settled on a CHOKO-DAIFUKU since it had cute little Byakkotai cartoons on the box. What it turned out to be was cocoa powder covered balls of a cloudy, pliable substance. I ate 6 in my effort to avoid wasting it, despite the experience being a bit like consuming what I'd describe as chocolate left to sit for too long in a peat bog. A trio of obasans (old ladies) were watching the whole show with amusement. Their reactions revealed that they didn't trust the sweets either.

The next day while on route to the samurai estate, some old ladies passing by suddenly pointed at me and said "AH. OOSUTORARIA-JIN!". I was nowhere near Mike at the time so I was thinking "Gee, is it that obvious that I'm Aussie?", until I realised that it was the same ladies from the day before.

After a bit of overzealous shopping, we had a 7-eleven lunch (curry cup noodle) and decided to stuff Bandai-san. The weather looked ominous and it was already getting dark even though it was only 1:30. That's another thing. Japan needs daylight saving BADLY. It gets dark at 4:30pm. Not to mention everything (the sights anyway) closes at 4:30. Even if we take the earliest trains each day, it only leaves us with 8-9 hours to do stuff.

So again we headed back to the YH early. Takahata-san came at 5:30 to pick us up for dinner. He had a KAA-NABI (car navigation) that told him which route to take in a cutesy anime-like voice.

We met Takahata-san's wife. For distinction purposes we were to call them by their first names: MUTSUO and MITSU (Mutsuo's wife). Mitsu-san was a famous sculptor who had won awards in Fukushima-ken. Hmmm...this town alone was fast putting us Australians to shame in terms of achievements.

We were introduced to the Takahata's youngest son, Reikki-chan the cat - a big fluffy Persian who was bit shy.

The meal we had was NABE: a typical winter meal, similar to sukiyaki but with pork and lots of home grown vegies like shiitake mushrooms. Much better than sukiyaki in my opinion. It was accompanied by some salad, fried chicken and a vegetable soup. We also tried KUZUKIRI, a supposedly healthy noodle made from the flour of ground tree roots.

We got to talking about how great Yamaguchi-san was. Apparently it was news to the Takahata's when we asked them if they knew why he disliked Americans so much. We concluded it had something to do with the SEIJI (government). The Takahata's on the other hand had no problems with Americans and had previously hosted a university professor who was doing a home stay through Aizu university.

Later on we were treated to a surprise visit from Yamaguchi-san himself. He said Americans ate too many potato chips. We said that Australian's did too, but Mike was an exception, to which they said Mike was KINNIKUMAN (a muscleman icon from a popular manga and anime).

All the while we were drinking sake out of the old style box cups (shiho hai? - my memory of that night is somewhat vague). For your info you drink from the TSUMI (corner). We were half expecting to be drinking from the bottle of sake we bought for Mitsuo-san, when he substituted it for one twice as big. HANASAKIGANI was its name.

Dave mentioned that he didn't like drinking beer, to which Mitsuo-san jumped up and grabbed beers for Mike, himself and I. He said he liked it ON ZA ROKUSU (with ice). He joked that in Aizu culture, Dave would be seen as half a man for not drinking beer and going so slow on the sake, prompting Dave to GUUU (skoll) the rest of his sake.

We learnt that NOMBE is the word for drunk.

After relating that stupid shochu story about drinking it straight, Mike launched into a recount of his beer can pyramid building days. We confused the hell out of them, passing around diagrams and talking about triangles of beer cans (my translation skills were really stretched to their limits).

Mutsuo-san related a story of his own about how he managed to get a 2 second part, drinking beer in a YEBISU BEER commercial. It must have been pretty funny for the town to see their local school headmaster on a beer CM.

Mike was pissing like a racehorse all night since he was sitting next to Mutsuo-san who kept eagerly refilling both Mike's beer and sake cups. They kept calling Mike a TSUU (sake specialist).

We gave the Takahatas the remainder of the souvenirs from Australia - a kangaroo leather money purse and a kangaroo fur bookmark (SHIORI). We apologised for the presents being crap (too many nice people and not enough souvenirs to go around - next time I'm bringing a crate load), but they said it was our heart that was appreciated. They gave us limited edition 500 coins from the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics in return.

Yamaguchi-san continued to say that we were lucky and that we were some of the best guests he'd had. BTW, Yamaguchi-san doesn't like vegetarians either because they make things difficult.

For dessert we had yogurt with fruit, plus the No.1 variety of persimmon - MISHIRAZUKIKU (not crunchy or slimy like the other varieties, but incredibly crisp - someday I'm coming back to Japan just to try it again).

We then got on the topic of culture. Mutsuo-san taught us that fool (BAKA) in Aizu-ben (Aizu dialect) is ONZAGES. Surprisingly, Yamaguchi-san doesn't speak Aizu-ben, despite his family being in Aizu for many generations.

We then got an etiquette lesson on how we should refill our sake cups (Yakuza style):
- always fill others' cups before your own
- hold the bottle in two hands when pouring, whilst saying DOOZO
- hold your cup in two hands if you're the receiver, and don't move it up or down until the pouring has finished completely otherwise it indicates you're greedy and can't wait
- never shake a sake bottle to see how much is left since it implies that you're craving more. You should be able to tell just by the weight of the bottle

All these lessons on drinking and pouring meant that Mike, Mitsuo-san and I were fast cleaning up the bottle of sake.

We were all sitting in AMURA (crosslegged) position, but if we had been Yakuza and Mutsuo-san (the now rather drunk Mutsuo-san who kept hitting Mike, and saying DAME to everything) was oyabun (BOSS), we would have had to have sat in SEIZA (kneeling) position.

We finally cleared up the distinction between ATSUI (hot - as in hot weather) and ATATAKAI (hot to touch - eg. food and drink). We also learnt that the body language to indicate that something is hot is to touch your earlobe.

I brought up the MAJIDE comment again so Mutsuo-san called me an Osakan AHO (fool in Osaka-ben, but has a more offensive meaning in standard Japanese).

Mitsu-san said that she was impressed that we were all eating everything that was given, so I talked about our UMEBOSHI experience and also mentioned that we had yet to try NATTO (fermented soy beans). Then they sprung the GAIJIN CHARENJI (gaijin challenge) on us and gave us natto omelettes. Mike couldn't finish his. I swallowed it quickly so I wouldn't be wasting food. Dave was loving it - mind you his nose was blocked so that he couldn't tell that it smelt like off milk.

I gave a meek smile, fighting back the tears when Mike's uneaten natto travelled around the table and landed before me. My half-hearted nodding and less that enthusiastic "OISHII" (delicious) was not lost on them. Yamaguchi-san even said "KAWAISOO" (I pity them).

Back on the topic of drinking, Mutsuo-san pointed out what looked like a pickled radish in a bottle, telling us that is was a Korean root that had been fermenting for 10 years. Mike pointed and asked "SHITEMOII DESUKA" (am I allowed?).

I asked the Takahatas what the deal was with all the red triangles marked on all the windows of tall buildings. Mutsuo-san's explanation was quite entertaining. In the event of a fire, the firemen need to know via which windows they can enter the building. Triangle marked windows, when knocked go JYAAN, and fall down in one piece. Other windows go PIKA PIKA PIKA (accompanied by wide, "twinkling" hand movements) and shatter all over the place.

I also asked about the big red cow symbol we had seen everywhere around Aizu. The cow is called AKABEKO (BEKO being Aizu-ben for cow). It symbolises happiness and togetherness.

We finally exchanged addresses and got ready to leave. Mike even promised that he would return to Aizu for the festival with girlfriend in tow.
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