Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Aftershocks and Mascots up North

Sleeping in a strange place, forgetting where I am, I stare at my surroundings to get my bearings. Shoji doors are parted allowing in the first glimmer of morning. The light barely touches the trees or the snow. It's more like a black and white photo outside- black lines etched randomly into the great whiteness.

Surrounded by snow, I am warm with no snow to shovel, no meals to prepare, no cleaning to do, but I'm jonesing for knitting needles or a sewing machine. It's unfair to have quiet time but no chance to make something. Usually I'm happy to have time to write. I stop myself and think Enjoy the stillness, the quiet. It's a rare offering to have it.

The earthquake aftershock at dinner last night (a 3.0 in Akita) was enough that a gasp or two was audible. It was short lived and didn't cause me stress. My leftover earthquake anxiety spikes when we are not together. If we are spread out: husband in Yokosuka, children in Kamakura, and mama wherever, then I feel stress with the aftershocks. Besides running for higher ground in the event of a tsunami, there seems little to do. I keep small packs of food in my purse now with the thought if I were stranded, a snack would be good to have. There is little we can control. In the survivor stories, what helped seems random. Better to be at ease.

Mascots & Tourism
Mascots are everywhere in Japan representing businesses, regional areas, and products. A new favorite, The Onsen Brothers, represent tourist attractions in the Akita area we are visiting- Fukainda, the deepest lake in Japan; Nukuinda, the hot springs; and Iyasunda the mountain luxe with green hillsides and flowers. Who knew a lake, a hot spring, and a mountain could be so kawaii. They are recently appointed mascots that have yet to appear in souvenir goods, but the intent behind them is to encourage visitors.

The real aftershock of the earthquake here has been the dip in foreign tourism. I haven't seen another gaijin except on a poster which turned out to be a local Akita beauty who strangely, to me, looks foreign. Akita beauties even have a mascot. It looks like a triangle onigiri rice ball with pink circles for cheeks, representing the white skin and rosy cheeks of the northern girls. The Mule blends in here.

The poster of the Akita beauty that I thought was a gaijin- the Mule blends in here!
At the local tourism association, the staff were friendly and eager to practice their English on us. They have been studying. Reportedly more Chinese than Westerners come here, but they want more. There is a nice blog in English kept by someone at the association with links and information for those who are willing to adventure north.

Relaxing Japanese style is radically different from the western approach. Here we sleep on futons, there is no TV, so we watch the snow fall or the charcoal fire that grills our food in the dining room. We sit on the floor wearing robes and pajamas- at every meal. We bathe at least twice a day and then need a lot of water to drink and lotion for our skin. We eat fish, rice, meat, soup, mountain potatoes, and drink tea and sake. I think we will go back home refreshed instead of spent as happens on some vacations.

Go north, they need you, and you need this.
Heading into the onsen, we cross a small foot bridge in Akita

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