Julie’s Office Trip, 2009

[Julie]

You may remember reading about my adventure to Tokyo with my office last year. This year, we went to the bordering prefectures of Iwate and Akita, touring around from stop to stop by bus. I kept a journal during the trip, which I will take from heavily for this post.

Saturday, 6 a.m. My alarm is sounding, but I decide to sleep for 10 minutes more, knowing full well that I’ll only have 30 minutes left to get out the door. I’m scrambling, when I finally do get up, to gather my things and eat something before leaving. Taylor patiently waits, in sweats and his scruffy morning beard, by the front door as I rack my brain for anything I might be forgetting. I’m leaving later than I wanted, so we both run out to the car, which we have to park in a lot on a different block than our apartment. I worry the whole way along the drive to my office, thinking everyone must be there already, waiting.

7:15 a.m. Right on time! No one is at the office. We drive into an empty parking lot. No bus in sight. A bad feeling creeps into my stomach as I automatically start to think back on the directions I received about meeting up before the trip. I try to figure out where it was that I got something wrong. Were we not supposed to meet at the office? Was it 7:15 p.m. last night that we were supposed to meet? I call a coworker. She assures me that I have arrive first. Relief.

7:30 We set off on the bus after everyone arrives. We pick up more office members at 2 other stops. The kanji (aka trip organizers) start passing around snacks and drinks and tell us about what’s in store for the day.

8:30 The sun is bright through the morning mist. The bus is full with the bubbling sound of Japanese conversation.

First stop: Bento lunch at Kamaku Lando.

We also had to sample the famous yakisoba at this stop.

We broke off into groups and I joined in with the ladies for an adventure through Wonder Castle.

Balancing through Wonder Castle.

Little and big people room!

“Humans”

The one-armed handstand on a table room!

Sky diving!

That guy was really worried about his elephant.

Fish friends, swam right out of the pictures.

After a well-needed, hour-long nap on the bus, we stopped at a museum made from an old samurai dwelling. We picked out some souvenirs and headed back to the bus. We drove through a twisting mountain road, with no lack of the beautiful fall foliage that had followed us throughout the morning and afternoon, until we reached Tazawa Lake; the deepest lake in Japan. Our hotel was further up the mountain and we arrived just as the sun was setting.

We settle into our ryokan style hotel rooms and then we had dinner. Oh, how we had dinner.

This was my hotel room. In the evening when the guests leave the rooms, the hotel elves come out of hiding and quickly and efficiently move the table and chairs somewhere and lay out all of the futons for the guests.

Here’s the hotel dining room. Each table has a basket of food ready to be grilled on a fire at the center of the diners. This particular evening there was a pot of bear meat and rice dumpling soup hanging over one of the two fires. The soup fire was also surrounded with whole fish on a stick. The room was toasty warm and super relaxed. Many people chose to wear the yukata (light kimono) provided by the hotel. It’s comfortable and easy to change in and out of when visiting the onsen (public bath) also at the hotel.

This is what my place setting looked like before I started eating.

Here’s one of the many rounds of food grilling in front of us. The chicken is stuffed with gyoza meat and the mushrooms are shiitake with a pepper in the center.

Here’s my place setting right before my food coma set in…

After dinner, the hotel’s super hot and sulfuric onsen relaxed our muscles. I couldn’t stay in longer than a few minutes at a time because it was so hot. After the onsen, more food (!) and visiting until we were all too sleepy to not turn in for the night.

Day 2

Sunday, 6:30 a.m. Again, I push snooze to sleep for another 10 more minutes. Then I remember the onsen, so I cut my snooze short and gather my things together to head out for a morning soak.

Breakfast was fish, soup, nori, mushroom/miso salad, slimy bundle of fibrous seaweed drenched in vinegar or possible pickled, more pickled mystery vegetables, super salty fish eggs, tea, rice, and orange juice. Yum!

We had some extra time in the morning, so a group of us walked around the woods near the hotel. Here’s what we saw:

The overlook.

Close up.

On the bus again. Our first stop is a handmade goods shop. We spend an hour and ten minutes there watching people work on their crafts: iron ware, painted wooden horses, dyed fabric, and yummy treats. A few of my coworkers tried their own hand at the yummy treats.

The area had a really pretty lookout point where a snapped up some more autumn leaf pictures.

Next stop was a sake factory. After a tour through a big building with many large vats and a strong, strong smell, we were sent through the souvenir shop for taste testing. I bought a bottle of amezake; a super sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from rice. Although it tastes really sweet, there is no sugar added.

Last stop was a late-afternoon lunch. We ate at a restaurant famous for its wanko soba. Wanko soba is served bite-to-bite, so as you slurp up some noodles from your bowl, emptying it, a server is standing next to you and immediately splashes another mouthful into your bowl. The servers hold a tray filled with small bowls of these (big) bite sized servings, and stack all the empty bowls next to you so you can count how many you eat. 10 of these bowls is about one normal sized bowl of noodles. When you are full, you cover your bowl so that it can’t be refilled. This sounds reasonable, but the servers are very quick and there is some skill involved in managing to eat your last bite and then quickly cover your bowl before the server can refill it. They really do try to beat you to it and will hold a refill bowl right next to you when they see you are reaching for the lid. I stopped after 35 bowls, and the record for our group was over 80 bowls. The record for that restaurant was a guy who ate over 500 bowls.

It was the most fun I’ve ever had eating soba.


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2 Responses to “Julie’s Office Trip, 2009”

  1. Kay Says:

    Hey Julie~!!
    Looks like you had a wonderful time in Iwate/Akita! Those yellow and red trees are so beautiful! I have heard of wanko-soba, but never seen one- Thanks for the video! =)

  2. Mom in AK Says:

    Wow! Quite the trip. I liked the skydiving shot….. and all the warm fall colors in the trees.

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