Days 1-3

Trip Start Aug 05, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Monday, August 6, 2007

August 5-20, 2007 Trip to Japan
Day 1
             The trip to Los Angeles was 5 hours, and no sooner had we landed, then we had to dash to our next plane to Narita at a different gate, which was already boarding. Yehuda flew first class and I sat in coach with Ayelet who slept most of the way. We arrived at Narita Airport after a very long trip-mostly because of the extra 3 hours we needed to be at the airport ahead of time for security reasons.
          Our arrival was on August 6 at about 4:30 PM and we went through customs and Immigration-sort of a long line, but Ayelet, being a legal resident, got to go quickly through the Japanese immigration.
        From the airport we took a train to Tokyo and switched there for the Shinkansen-The Bullet train. More about this later. Walking through Tokyo station to get to the bullet train was an experience-first of all the station is unbelievably crowded-and very hot. Then Yehuda and I were dragging two suitcases each-filled with Ayelet's stuff and she only had one. Try taking escalators with 2 suitcases and you will understand why. The Shinkansen tickets we bought for the three of us were for reserved seats. Ayelet showed us how to find the car # we were in and we got on the train. The train is always on time. The trip was about 1 and hours to Sendai. On the way someone became ill, so it made an unscheduled stop for paramedics to come on board-after that stop, the train went notably faster to be on time. The top speed is about 300 km/hour. Various train lines have different top speeds. The Shinkansen were originally built in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and at that time went about 200 km/hour. The ride is very quiet and very smooth. We noticed that the tracks sit on concrete crossties instead of wooden ones which are more common in the US.
   On the trains, the Japanese are very quiet and polite. They don't allow cell phones to ring on the train so they must be set to vibrate. When they talk to someone on the train, they actually cover their mouths with their hands. Most people seem to text message.Vendors with small carts similar to those on airplanes go up and down the aisles selling food, sweets, and drinks. On the back of each seat is a tray table. Most people seem to be eating box meals which are sold on the station platforms. When they leave, they take their garbage with them and recycle their bottles in the containers on the platforms. The train floors are very clean!!  There are 3 different bathrooms on the train. One in the old-fashioned Japanese squat fashion, one for men only, and the third in the Western style. The Western style toilets have three buttons on the side-one for bidet, one for spray and the other to adjust the spray. They squirt warm water. There are no paper towels, but all the bathrooms had electric hand dryers.
See  more about Shinkansen.
    Arriving in Sendai, we walked to our hotel, the Holiday Inn, which was about a 6 minute walk. It was slightly raining but very muggy and warm. We left all the suitcases in our room and walked with Ayelet to a bar of some sort for dinner. She did the ordering as we had no clue what things were. We kept to things that were familiar like chicken on a stick One thing she ordered was cartilage-chicken kabob on a skewer-I didn't like it as I couldn't chew it, but Ayelet said it was a Sendai specialty food.
Day 2
We went to bed exhausted, but woke very early since Ayelet was going to take us touring to Matsushima and to Shizugawa, the first town she had worked and lived in. It was a bit strange having her drive on the left side of the street in her little sports car. We started out by taking a boat ride on Matsushima Bay. The main attractions on the bay during the pleasant boat ride were all the small islands, fields of seaweed, and shellfish farms in the water. Then there were the mass of seagulls following the boat, grabbing snacks that the passengers held out to them from their hands or even from their mouths.
     When we went to turn on our camera, we found that the lens had stuck and it was unusable. Ayelet's camera had been stolen in Chinatown the night before we left, so we bought a throw away camera to use for the day. Hopefully, the pictures will come out from the small camera. Yehuda and I enjoyed throwing the treats at the gulls, holding out our arms and having them eat from our hand. They were able to take the treats from our hands without nipping us.
         Afterwords we went to the beach at Shizugawa where we met some of Ayelet's friends. Yehuda and Ayelet went swimming, while I walked over to a small island with Ayelet's friends, Zen (a Buddhist monk), and Frank and climbed up to a Shinto shrine. It was a long way up but it very beautiful. Later on we saw Zen's Buddhist temple and he explained to us the role of Buddhism in today's Japan- which is to take over when a person dies, to arrange for cremation and burial  etc. to attend the graves and monuments. Buddhism runs in his family. Buddhist monks marry and have families in Japan. In the evening we went to Frank's and Mie's (his wife) and had a massage-they just opened a Thai massage parlor. I had my feet massaged! Then we went to a nice restaurant in the mountains with Ayelet, Frank, Mie, and Zen.  I sat with my back to the wall as we had to sit on the floor and I am unable to kneel for more than a few seconds at a time.
Day 3
We had a huge breakfast in our hotel, then went with Ayelet to the camera and electronics store to buy 2 cameras. We got a Pentax waterproof-with a lens that doesn't come out. Unfortunately there was no English manual, but the store agreed to download for us 50 pages of the manual. I bought for Ayelet  the same camera that was stolen from her days earlier. She went to work and we started strolling through Sendai. The city was having its Tanabata festival. There were lovely streamers with round balls at the top hanging everywhere-especially in the covered shopping streets (malls.) They were so long that they almost touched the ground. The whole shopping mall was very colorful, filled with masses of people. We wandered up and down the streets getting free samples of fish cakes and red bean sweets. There was a cacophonous, deafening sound of the many vendors shouting out to the public to taste their fish cakes, try their samples of various foods, or to enter their shops.  The various vendors and shops were handing out round plastic fans, advertising their wares. The heat was stifling so the fans came in very handy. Many women and kids were dressed in yukata-summer cotton versions of kimono. They wore wide sashes called Obis that were  square in the back for married woman, and butterfly shaped in the back for unmarried girls. We photographed a group of kids leaning over garbage cans eating watermelon. Everywhere we went people were wildly waving  the plastic fans against the incredible heat.
I took many photos which will be forthcoming.  We kept seeing policemen shouting announcements in Japanese, and followed the crowds until we got to a main road where there was to be a parade around the main street. We were standing and sweating buckets, but it was worth watching the parade. It started out with young men only wearing some sort of wrap like sumo wrestlers-holding bamboo branches and marching with drums by kneeling, standing, kneeling, standing-It made my knees ache to watch them. Then there were little girls in yukatas doing dances with fans. There were older women parading with fans, and then came the firemen. They were dressed like samurai warriors-held long sticks that were hooked on the end, and carried a huge bamboo ladder. Most of the men hooked their long sticks around the lower rungs of the ladder-and the bottom rungs surrounding the ladder, and several others took turn climbing up the ladder and doing gymnastic tricks at the top of it-very impressive!
We had dinner with Ayelet and a friend, after coming to her work which is right above a McDonalds and meeting some little students of hers dressed in yukatas. Her work's name is Abroad Language Center! Our dinner consisted of various forms of grilled beef tongue and pickles which is a specialty of Sendai.
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