Archive for the ‘Arrival’ Category

Noheji Town: A Brief Overview Based on Initial Observations

August 13, 2008

We’ve introduced Noheji to you in photos, now it’s time to try words.  Let’s begin with an overview of the prefecture.

Aomori-ken

Noheji is nestled in the northern center of Aomori-ken (or Aomori Prefecture) on the edge of Mutsu Bay.  Aomori-ken is the northernmost prefecture on Honshu (Japan’s mainland).  It is famous for many things, most notably apples and snow.  The ‘Fuji apple’ was developed in Aomori in the 19th century and has since gained popularity the world over.  Apples have literally become the symbol of Aomori-ken as the fruit has been incorporated into the prefecture’s logo.

Winters in Aomori-ken are supposedly long, cold, and full of snow.  However, the abundance of mountains and hot springs provide ideal locations for ski resorts and onsens scattered across the prefecture.

The Shimokita Peninsula to the far Northeast section of Aomori contains the world’s northernmost habitat of wild monkeys.  And, yes, they like hot springs.  The mountainous region is also known for its population of bears, but I don’t believe they are as abundant there as they are in Hokkaido.

Eventually winter succumbs to spring.  Hirosaki City, in central Aomori-ken, is world famous for its blooming cherry blossoms (sakura) at HIrosaki Castle.  Apparently there are over 5,000 cherry trees that surround the castle.  Wow.

Summers in Aomori are short, and thus, packed with festivals.  The temperatures during this time are warm, but less humid than other parts of Honshu.

Autumn is another dramatic season in Aomori.  Lake Towada is a famous site for witnessing the changing colors of the deciduous leaves.

People make a living in Aomori-ken in a variety of ways.  First, there’s the fish.  Plenty of halibut, squid, salmon, cod, abalone, sea urchins, and scallops to feed the nation.  The hiba cypress is the prefectoral tree and is used to make local furniture.  Apparently it naturally wards off bugs.  Yams, rice, and garlic are also farmed in abundance.

Noheji Town

At the junction of the Tohoku train line and the southeast corner of Mutsu Bay is the town of Noheji, a small fishing community of about 15,000 people.  Noheji embodies many of Aomori-ken’s characteristics.  First there is the snow.  We will receive much of it this winter.  The town, conveniently, contains both a ski resort/onsen that will be ideal for winter recreation.

Noheji will probably be the only place we live that will have both a ski resort/onsen and a public sandy ocean-side beach for cooling off during the summer.  We have yet to visit both the beach and ski resort, but when we do we’ll be sure to post a full report (with photos).

Noheji, like most towns and cities in Japan, benefits from great city planning.  Noheji train station offers services for commuters and tourists alike and will probably be our gateway to traveling around Japan on weekends and holidays.  The town itself, unlike much of suburban and rural America, is not spread out.  Living with the community in such close proximity allows much of the breathtaking landscape to remain mostly unspoiled.

Noheji and the surrounding area is famous for scallops.  You can find scallops in everything here, including pizza (we recommend the scallop, bacon, and basil pizza at Cafe R, a small Italian restaurant in town).

There are several grocery stores in Noheji, including two supermarkets.  Restaurants we’ve encountered thus far have included two Italian diners, at least two ramen shops, take-out sushi, and a few others that offer traditional Japanese cuisine.  There are also three pastry bakeries (two of which specialize in cake by the slice), a pet bird and fish shop, manga store, handball gymnasium, a hospital, and a large police station.  The ubiquity of the town’s barbershops and hair salons (at least one on every street) is surpassed only by the vending machines that offer cool, refreshing lemon water, green tea, milk tea, ice coffee, and a variety of sodas.

Many people own cars in Noheji but right now one can easily get around on a bike.  That’s precisely what Julie and I have been doing.  It’s wonderful.  We have enjoyed our frequent trips to school and the store as we practice our greetings to the people we pass on the streets.  They usually return the greeting with a smile and a bow.  We also frequently pass by gardens and grassy meadows where one can hear the pleasant ambient chirping of insects at all hours of the day and night.

Three times during the day (8:30 AM, 12:00 PM, and 8:00 PM), traditional music is pumped out of a PA speaker from the town hall.  We have taken comfort as these ‘theme songs’ of Noheji prompt the various transitions of the day.

Thus concludes the overview.

Living a dream…

On a more personal note, Julie and I have had dreams about Japan almost every night.  Then we wake up and realize we’re still there.

All information in this entry not gleamed from personal observation or conversations with residents and former residents of Noheji was found in a guide to Aomori published by the International Affairs Division of the Aomori Prefectural Government.

Noheji Photos

August 11, 2008

Some photos of our town.  I’ll have a more informational entry tomorrow.

bike ride to store

bike ride to store

corner

corner

garden

garden

corn!

corn!

our favorite daytime shortcut

our favorite daytime shortcut

gotta have a rice cooker...

gotta have a rice cooker...

Tokyo to Noheji

August 11, 2008

Here are a few photos from Tokyo orientation and our travel to Noheji.

salmon pizza

salmon pizza

karaoke

karaoke

tokyo tower

tokyo tower

tokyo cityscape

tokyo cityscape

Tokyo Orientation

August 4, 2008

We made it!

Julie took this photo from her seat on the plane as we traveled thousands of feet above the Pacific Ocean.  The flight took a little less than 10 hours.  I spent most of that time reading while Julie slept and watched a few movies on the screen affixed to the back of the seat in front of her.  This will no doubt sound cliche (honestly it probably won’t be the first nor the last cliche on this site), but it wasn’t until our plane left the ground at the Portland Airport that I became cognizant of the significance of the flight.  For a brief moment, as we gained altitude above the Columbia River, I was able to grasp the gravity of the situation; simulaneously looking forward while remembering what we were leaving behind.

Thanks to Julie, Michael Chabon, James David Duncan, and a nice couple sitting behind us, it was the shortest 10 hour plane ride ever.

Better than No Doz...

Better than No-Doz...

We arrived at Narita Airport at around 5:00 PM, breezed through customs, and rode a bus for an hour before ending up in Shinjuku, a district in Tokyo.  After settling in, Julie and I ate at a lovely udon noodle shop near the hotel that was tasty and inexpensive.  By the time we got back to our room we had been up for nearly 24 hours and decided to sleep.  I woke up at 6:00 AM without an alarm.  It was the first time I’ve ever felt fully awake so early in the morning.

From there it has been non-stop orientation.  Our day has been packed with meetings, info sessions, speeches, advice, and food while meeting scores of new, interesting people.  Our overall mood is euphoric.

Also, arriving was not the outer planetary experience I thought it would be.  It turns out from the sky, Japan really does look like all those Google Earth images.  Also, the landscapes and cityscapes, although different than you imagined, contain hints of familiarity.  However I’m sure we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.

Here are a few more photos.  We’ll have more of Shinjuku in the days to come.

Portland Airport

View from our window

Ready for work

Ready for work

Not every JET is from the U.S.

Not every JET is from the U.S.