To Aomori

Obama apologises for Hiroshima and the rubbish bins at the train stations are closed. Police are everywhere and he (and the other foreign dignitaries) aren’t even in these cities. Once again fear trumps reason.

No matter, we’ve got better things to do anyway, like sort out with the hotel that we’re changing our booking and catching a train up to Aomori at the top of the main island.

But the reservation desk doesn’t open until 9:30 AM so it’s off to Matsu-ben for a blend of Japanese and Western breakfast ordered from a machine. Sausage and egg and miso soup and rice.

Unfortunately, I can’t score window seats on the sleek green Hayabusa Shinkansen that whisks us North at over 300 kilometres an hour, not until after Morioka.

We eat obento lunches purchased from the basement of the Daimaru department store near Tokyo station. Yum.

The Shinkansen stops at Shin-Aomori and a second train is required to deliver us to the centre of the maritime city.

Our hotel, the Toyoko Inn, is opposite the train station and our first destination, the Wa Rasse Nebuta Museum. Each year for a week in early August up to twenty-two four tonne floats are paraded through the streets of Aomori. The floats are decoated with huge figurines made of wire and painted paper and illuminated from within.

The museum houses a number of these amazing floats, each illustrating a dramatic scene and involving royalty, gods and monsters and even a giant wasp. There is Japanese and English signage for the floats on display, all of which are absolutely gorgeous. Absolutely worth coming to Aomori to see them.

The region is famed for its apples and all sorts of apple based products are for sale in souvenir shops across the city. A crossed over to the A Factory, had ice icream and purchased apple based goodies to eat.

Nearby, the Hakkoda-Maru, a train ferry which transported railway vehicles across to Hokkaido before the tunnel was built, is now berthed as a museum. The old railway ramp, attached to cranes to adjust for the tide, now stands rusting away, alongs with its decaying concrete control hut.

We just walked along the dock before turning back. It was clothes shopping time. We’d left our big bag back at the Shinjuku hotel for safe keeping but had forgotten to pack a couple of changes of clothes for Alex and B over the next couple of days. Lucky it was them and not me, for I’d have little hope of finding replacements here.

The main street of Aomori had that quiet nature of so many regional Japanese cities. The Aura department store proved unsatisfactory for clothes, though there were other interesting goods. Next to the station was the Lovina department store, which included a Muji which sold the basic items required. The laundry at our hotel would do the rest.

Sometimes you just need something simple.

The grey sky had turned more complex and the setting sun bathed the city in a mystical golden light. The atmosphere was so distinct from the bustle of Shinjuku, or even Sydney. A sense of peace, of quiet decay yet still some life, as attested by the bars and cafes vying for our patronage.

It had to be a dinner of fresh seafood for us, as this is a port city. We returned to an bar/restaurant near our hotel because we were too tired, it served a range of dishes and it had an English menu.

Fortunately the food was good. The odd combination of a crab meat Caeser salad, fried seafood noodles, chicken and seafood yakitori, was enough to satisfy us for the night.

Then back to the Toyoko Inn, so familiar that we even have a miniature of the chain on our model railway layout. As do they on their desk.

This is only a brief stay and tomorrow is off to the other side of the coast for some scenic beauty and hot baths.

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