First of all, happy new year to those of you that still read my increasingly infrequently updated blog! Let's hope 2009 will be a good year.
I certainly got it off to an interesting start, as I took a trip with some friends from the Soshigaya International House. Over four days, we visited several nice places in Tohoku, the north of Honshu, the main island of Japan. We left by night bus, not my favourite method of transportation but it is cheaper than the alternatives (such as Shinkansen) and arrived at Morioka in the morning of the 29th. From there we took a regular bus to Matsukawa Onsen, a small hot spring resort in the mountains. Here we enjoyed the beautiful snowy surroundings and the various hot springs. Taking a bath in an open air hot spring surrounded by snow is certainly a unique experience!
The next day we travelled to Tazawa-ko by train, a town between Morioka and where we would spend new year, to see the lake there, the deepest in Japan or so I've been told. It was funny seeing the beach all covered with snow. The lake itself never freezes, probably due to its depth, although according to legend it's because Princess Tatsuko fell in love with a dragon god and that it's their passionate love making that keeps the lake from freezing over.
On the 31st we took the Shinkansen to Akita, and from there a local train (which was delayed a lot) to Tsuruoka and finally a bus to the top of Mt. Haguro. There we would stay at the temple itself, and attend the fire festival during the night. The festival was very interesting. It involved a competition between two local villages. First some young men from each village would have a debate, which involved enormous amounts of sake, to decide who would run the race later. The winners of the debate (incredibly drunk of course) of each village would race against each other pulling a giant burning rope. There was also a ceremony inside involving monks trying to fly as a bird, and some monk wearing a rabbit mask. Near new year, the temple bell would ring 108 times to get rid of the troubles of the previous year. Finally, another fire was lit at new year itself.
It was an amazing experience and very different from how I usually celebrate new year. I'm glad I could witness it.
So what will 2009 hold? I don't know of course. I do know that the first part will involve lots of bureaucracy as my first two years in Japan come to an end. This means I have to renew my visa (made more complicated by the fact that my passport will also expire this year), and move out of the international house. I've already started looking (online only at the moment) at apartments in the area. I plan to visit a housing agent (which a lot of the international students use because of their low fee and English speaking abilities) next week. Then I'll have to notify everybody like the insurance to the city hall of my address change. So I've certainly got my work cut out for me. Besides my actual research work, that is. :)
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