Hearing Chris’s descriptions of Sendai early on in the program, I had always thought it would be fun to visit him and see some of the beautiful sights there. Still, shinkansen tickets as expensive as they are, I didn’t know if I would be able to do it. After discovering the JR East pass, a Sendai visit became the clear choice for my last two “flex days.”
Because I’m writing this long after the fact, I am afraid that I can’t go into as much detail as if I had written it immediately afterwards. In fact, as I am writing this I am on a plane on my way back to the United Steates. I had not enough time in the last weeks to document the trip, but I think now is a good time to reflect.
I’ll start with the day before I left, Thursday. I had the good fortune of being able to meet my cousin Kelsey, who was staying in Japan at the time as well, for dinner. She was a little less experienced with the trains, and our homes are about an hour and a half away, so we met halfway at a train stop I picked for its convenience. I ended up waiting for like an hour and a half for her as she bounced around on the wrong trains and had to have kindly Japanese businessmen who spoke a little English help her. At last she arrived and we wandered around and reminisced a little bit.
I asked her what she wanted to eat but she couldn’t really decide on anything so I thought ramen would be best. We wandered off the beaten path and ended up at a little hole in the wall ramen shop. It was smokey and all the menus were completely in Japanese. I really don’t think they get many visitors like my blond-haired American cousin, so it was kind of funny. We ordered simply “ramen,” and gyoza (dumplings). It was quite delicious (not to mention cheap), and the service was excellent. I was starting to think of how I would ask for our tabletop cold water thermos to be refilled when the owner came and refilled it. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to us at all, but clearly he was. Overall it was very interesting and strange to meet up with someone so familiar (but yet who I rarely see) on the opposite side of the world. My cuz’ and I chillin’.
I got off work early, transferred a few trains to Omiya, and then hopped a shinkansen to Sendai. The shinkansen ride was fine, uneventful. I got into Sendai and immediately met up with Chris at the statue in the station. Viewing the night life, I think I underestimated the size of Sendai.
We went back to his apartment and I slept on the floor, rocking out to a little Led Zeppelin before falling asleep. We woke up early and got breakfast at a bakery. I had one of those sausages wrapped in a bun and a couple of delicious sugary things, orange juice too. I should explain at this point I was beginning to realize just how sick I was becoming. I coughed pretty hard on Thursday and Friday, but it was getting worse on Saturday. We walked to the station and struggled through language barriers to find the right bus, eventually getting on and beginning our hour long ride to the city with the beautiful waterfall. This was one of the hooks for the weekend: a chance to see one of the top three waterfalls in Japan.
The bus ended up not taking us as far as we thought, so we had to do some replanning. There was a crazy, but helpful, old guy at the visitors center that we stopped at. He was telling us about which buses we could take. It turned out that the next one wasn’t for a few hours, so we went to go explore the gorge. Halfway through the gorge, the old guy came chasing after us telling us that if we ran we could make a bus at the stop 10 minutes ahead. We ran and ran but missed the bus, of course. We couldn’t find the stop. The gorge.
We wandered around, instead, finding a weird for-pay park/garden. There was a nice, and huge, koi pond, as well as a foot onsen, which was quite relaxing (if scalding hot). We walked back to the visitors center and got some tonkatsu and then italian ice. There was a jazz band playing at the visitors center. Finally we boarded a bus to the waterfall.
We arrived at last at the stop for the waterfall. There were a few gift shops and things in the area. I saw something there that really piqued my interest. There were two shops selling tiny plants. They were kind of like bonsai, but I’m sure they weren’t bonsai proper. There were different kinds of mosses with maybe one plant growing out of the pot or soil ball. I really wanted to get one, they were reasonable priced (under 2000 yen), but I knew they would be too difficult to transport.
After figuring out when we had to get back to catch the bus out (a very important piece of information), we started out towards the falls. First we came to a temple of some kind. Outside the temple there was some kind of prayer tree or something, people had stuck coins into the bark for a long time. I got a cool picture of it.
After some walking on the path, Chris took some stairs the wrong way and twisted his leg. He said that the fact that he was limping instead of on the ground writhing in unbearable pain was a tremendous testament to the efficacy of his surgery. We came to a nice view from up above of the watefall. I was a little disappointed here, though, having seen waterfalls from this perspective for a long time and always feeling a little unfulfilled
We climbed up, crossed a bridge with an beautiful panorama of the mountains, then walked down a trail to get closer to the falls.
After still more walking we ended up near some rocks at the bottom of the waterfall. It was here that we got some truly incredible views. This waterfall was gorgeous and incredibly powerful and there was a cool, wet mist coming downfrom it. We walked out on the rocks and had just a magnificent view. We stayed for a good ten minutes, enthralled by the falls even as we got soaked.
As we left and crossed over the very high bridge again, I flipped a one yen coin into the water. You could see it all the way down, and even see the reflection of the light as it was carried a few meters down river. Also, I could see some river plants, which excited me somewhat.
Cough drops, the only way I was able to survive the weekend. I made a lot of jokes about how the one with power level five was so much better than all of the other unitless power levels (they had other varieties with lower throat-pain easing powers), even though I couldn’t read the text around it.
After the nice bus ride, in which I slept and listened to music, we met up with some people from Chris’s lab and went to a soccer game. I wasn’t that enthused because of my lack of interest in soccer, but I was a guest and actually thought it might be interesting to see a soccer game in Japan, if only for Michael.
The game was pretty cool. Sendai is very proud and supportive of their team, Vegalta, despite the fact that they aren’t even in J-1. Though, actually, it is kind of exciting because they are at the top of J-2 and could move up to J-1.
There is one primary subway line to the stadium, so after the game everybody went to the station. The speed with which the crowd dissipated is a testiment to the people moving capatibility of the Japanese subway systems.
After the game we ate gyutan, or cow tongue. It is a specialty of Sendai, and there are many gyutan places. Though Chris kept reminding me that it was like I was making out with a cow, it actually wasn’t that bad. It tasted about the same as beef, just with a different texture.
After this, Chris took me through Sendai’s seedier areas on our way back to his apartment. It was pretty seedy, but still not as bad as the hooker that touched my leg in Roppongi. That still creeps me out.
The night was absolutely miserable. I was coughing so hard I felt like I was going to die. I woke up with a sore throat and without being well rested, but I tried to make the best of the day.
That finishes up part one. See part two for exploring the beautiful islands of a city near Sendai.