Pit Stop Aomori

The shinkansen never ceases to amaze me. Tokyo-Aomori in slightly over three hours, comfortable seats and some peace and quiet. I’ll elaborate on the peace and quiet later.

The first thing to notice when getting off the train in Aomori was that it was cold. I had had high hopes that going to Japan as late as May would be enough for even the northern parts to have some summer-simulating qualities, but my shorts and fivefingers –based outfit was greeted with a windy 5°C Celsius. And although the ryokan I was supposed to stay at being located only a couple hundred meters from the station entrance, I still managed to spend 15 minutes looking for it. This should not surprise anyone who knows me.

Once found, though, the ryokan was great. The owner lady knew of my arrival and didn’t even care to see my reservation or payment receipt. She showed me to my room and soon brought me a couple of black sesame sembei and hot water to make tea with.

Green tea and sesame sembei

Apparently the only photo I took in while in Aomori. I obviously need three tea cups.

The room was slightly cold but nothing the heater couldn’t have fixed. A wireless connection was available as well, so nothing to complain about. Through the all-seeing eye of the World Wide Web I was able to identify the #1 restaurant in Aomori, Ippachizushi, which was located just a few blocks away. I went on a stroll and ended up walking around Aomori for a bit before reaching the main street and realizing there was nothing to see. The entire city was closing down around 6 pm. Sushi was all I had left.

Ippachizushi was a very traditional looking sushi restaurant with chefs standing behind the counter conversing with customers and, in my case, staring. Which is also why I didn’t dare immortalize the scene with the means of photography. Patrons had no plates, all sushi was placed on the counter in front and could be picked from there piece by piece. There was no english help anywhere and no menu, as was to be expected.

I realized immediately that my rusty Japanese wouldn’t have allowed me to order more than a few varieties of nigiri, so I decided to go all in and get whatever they recommended off the menu. The osusume of the night ended up being the matsu set, valued at 2100 yen. After asking what the clam sushi was called (=hotate), I ordered an additional serving of what had turned out to be my favourite and downed it all with a draft beer. The bill rose to 3310 yen, which was really reasonable for a good selection of sushi (and beer, never forget the beer), especially with the current exchange rate.

Mental note: I would be very interested in knowing what the naming convention for sushi sets are. This is not the first time it goes Umi < Take < Matsu from cheapest to most delectable.

Despite the pristine decor (I have to hit myself for using that word) and friendly staff, I was ever-so-slightly disappointed in the actual sushi. It was no doubt fresh, but the taste itself being very subtle, the amount of wasabi that had been put on the nigiri by the chefs themselves was enough to hide the actual flavors of the fruits-de-mer. Nevertheless, I went back to the ryokan on a full stomach and with a warm feeling inside, and began thorough research on the next destination – Hakodate.

I’M ON TRAIN!

Japanese train manners are, as George W. Bush would say, exemplorary. Not only are there constant reminders over the speaker system to put phones on silent (or manner mode), travelers never even raise their voices for conversing. Naturally ignorant gaijin are the exception to the rule, but I don’t have that much to say to myself so this time I have had no problems following these unwritten rules.

On morning trains, everybody is deathly silent. The only time any noise is heard is in late evenings when the weary salarymen begin to relax a little and a growing percentage of the passengers have imbued themselves with the power of alcohol. What I hadn’t seen before, though, was a sign on the back of the folding table warning passengers who have computers not to disturb others, whilst specifically mentioning the sound from typing on the keyboard.

So there I was in a train going 300 km/h and yet everything was so quiet you could disturb the whole car by the admittedly raucous action of typing.

In contrast, the traditional Japanese way of handling long train rides is as follows:

  • Buy bento box and / or beer at station,
  • Eat and drink
  • Fall asleep for remainder of journey
  • ???
  • Profit

Should the sleeping part fail, at least train-folk keep quiet. Optional actions include but are not limited to: relaxing in awkward positions, removing one shoe or staring at the scenery without so much as budging. Forever.

-Antti

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