Stepping off the train in Shin-Aomori it’s still hot in the sun, but the temperature is much more bearable compared to down south. I down another vending machine drink and get moving to Aomori station, which is several kilometres east, in the middle of town. Now that I’m far from Tokyo, it’s only just setting in that I’ll be flying solo for the next several days.
I’ve done little side-quests before but it’s usually on familiar territory. This time I don’t have Ast to back me up when it comes to reading and speaking, so that’s going to be interesting. In addition I’ll be tackling a few things that I simply haven’t touched before and don’t have any documentation for. I’m going to be writing the book as I go.
It’s only one stop from Shin-Aomori to Aomori proper, but the service they run is kinda weird. The Ou Main Line runs all the way down to Fukushima, but the train I get on feels more like an intercity service from back home, with cars that are setup differently. The cabin isn’t level with the platform, it’s a few steps up (which is annoying if you’ve got a big suitcase to haul), and travelling in my carriage is a guy with a semi-folded bicycle and a couple bringing their dog in a transport cage. Like I said, weird.
Caption: The Toyoko Inn that I’ll be staying in tomorrow night is fantastically located. It’s right near the station, and looks straight out onto Aomori Bay Bridge and an interesting looking art gallery/museum. This is actually from the station, but who’s counting?
Caption: Noone can really decide on what this should be called. “Wa-rasse” or “Wrasse” seem to be the two most common signposted names.
Caption: I think Fishy would be all over this, it’s designed by a fancy pants architecture firm.
Stumbling through the car rental is surprisingly not too difficult. Ast and Akira handled it last time, but it turns out that very little Japanese is needed, and enough of the paperwork is in English to make it easy. The car I’ve got is a Corolla Fielder, which is apparently the big wagon version of the Corolla sedan. It’s noticeably gutsier than the Vitz that I drove last time and pleasant enough to drive.
I want to get out of town and on the road as soon as possible, so I pick a local train station a bit to the east on google maps and start navigating. The first thing I notice once I start driving is… just how much the main road reminds me of Parramatta Road in Sydney. There’s plenty of “stuff” along the way, but it still feels grim and desolate somehow.
I can’t actually roll right up to Nonai station as I planned, but can get close enough. It’s quiet and the only noise in the area comes from a nearby truck depot for a shipping company. The end of the road gives way to gravel, and then is overtaken by tall grassy overgrowth; the station is visible a little way in the distaince.
Caption: Left alone, as best I can tell, the remains of this two-storey shack is the only thing making much noise. A sheet of metal hangs from underneath the eaves creaking gently in the wind and scraping across the corrugated roofing at intervals. It’s not clear what the purpose of the shack was, though the water tank outside suggests it was habitable. It’s very modest in size, but it would be liveable in a basic manner.
As I get out of the car I notice the air yet again. The breeze is soft, carrying a nostalgic summery moisture with it and the smell of salt. It reminds me of going swimming as a kid, when you’d come up out of the sea still soaking wet, and the wind trying in vain to evaporate the water from your skin.
On the way out of town I spot a set of stairs leading up to a shrine. It’s covered by greenery and the stairs are steep so I can’t see what’s up there, but my interest is piqued. There’s a small playground at the bottom of the stairs, so I park next to that and head up.
Opening the car door I’m greeted by a cacophony of cicadas underneath the trees. This is the real deal! Having only come during winter before, I’ve never heard cicadas in Japan. It probably sounds silly, but it feels weird to find them in reality when your only exposure has been through fiction. I just need to make my way to Hinamizawa and I’ll be all set…
Caption: The shrine is all closed up. It’s a modest affair but I’m curious enough to walk up the steps and cast my gaze around.
Hang on. Standing at the top of the steps, looking down, I spot something out the corner of my left eye. Hanging off one of the fairy lights is a small keychain figure. What the heck is that doing here?
Caption: Hah, that’s Riko from Hidan no Aria! It’s by no means a good show, but it was silly and fun so I reckon it’s okay, and not something I would have expected.
Caption: On a hunch I check the right side of the steps as well. Sure enough, there’s Jeanne d’Arc (yeah don’t ask, the series is like that).
I probably won’t make it to Mount Osorezan today, there’s just too much to explore along the way. Unlike Tokyo, which wastes nothing, I see a lot of old structures that seem to be left alone when they’re no longer needed. I guess it just makes sense that way, no point in cleaning them up at all.
Caption: A boarded up house just out of town, not far from the shrine. It feels unusual to have abandoned residences literally right next door to inhabited houses.
Caption: I don’t think this was a helpful road to follow, the potholes are deep enough to form puddles that the sun couldn’t reach and dry out.
Caption: Yup, I think I’m next to a gas or petrol storage facility, I saw more than a few big trucks on the road around here.
Caption: A little way up a hilly section of road is this rusted out shell of an old farmhouse. The roof has fallen in atop a pile of dirt, and the ground is thoroughly undriveable.
Caption: I guess it used to house tractors or some other piece of heavy farm machinery.
The road winds along, turning north to head up the Shimokitazawa peninsula, hugging the coastline. Along the way I drive past a beach. A real beach! Beaches are unheard of in Tokyo unless I’m mistaken, and this is a good one. The artificial breakwall creates two crescent shapes extending out from the shore, with a floating boom strung between them. I can’t help but be reminded of the bogey hole at Bronte beach, which has the same shape and provides a similarly protected area in which to swim. Off the south end of the breakwall is a small area where people are calmly fishing and soaking up the sun.
Caption: The break wall here is kinda odd, all the blocks are cubic instead of being tetrahedrons like everywhere else.
In the distance I can hear songs and the odd announcement over a PA system. I can definitely hear Lion from Macross Frontier, but it’s being sung by a dude who’s filking up the lyrics. This is accompanied by the smell of sausages cooking on a barbecue further along the shore. It’s a funny feeling; thousands of kilometres away, and yet it feels so perfectly like… home. What a great place, and I don’t even know the name of it.
Caption: Families swimming, stalls along the beach, a hot day and salt in the air.
Further along the way I pull off the road and stop in the carpark of a Lawson, it’s about 17:30. I’ve just been driving past the most stunning fields of green that I’ve ever seen, and this is the perfect spot for some pictures. I don’t know what they grow here, but it doesn’t matter.
Caption: This is it, this is Aomori. This is anime, games and movies, everything I’ve ever seen in a Japanese summer, and it’s come to life just for me. I’m living it. This is where I stand and feel that God’s work is just so real.
As I walk out of the Lawson with a bag of snacks and drinks I notice a new smell in the air. A little way back down the road I can see some smoke, it looks like they’re doing a controlled burn just off the side of the road. It’s another smell that reminds me of home, the sweet scent of firewood with a little bit of charcoal is wafting towards where I’ve parked the car, and I sit there for a few more minutes to just take it in. I remind myself that I’m in no great rush; as long as I get to B&B Muu in Mutsu, I’ve got a bed for the night. The rest of it can wait.
Caption: Driving along the shoreline, I stop in a little town called Noheji. Just down the road I can hear festival music, I’m guessing they’re practising for the upcoming Matsuri (15th to the 18th according to the sign near the entrance to town). This is fiction coming to life again, it’s really a bizarre feeling.
Caption: Lanterns decorate the main street of the town.
Some half an hour later, I’m still in Noheji, but barely. I can’t help pulling over all the time to look out over the scenery, it’s just breathtaking. Mutsu is still about 50km away and the light is failing fast. I really need to get moving, but it’s tough.
Caption: Every time I get out of the car, the first thing I notice is the sounds. Now, it’s the constant thrum of cicadas, and small waves on the shore. There’s a quarter moon creeping up into the cloudless sky just behind me, over the mountains.
Something maddening about the road north is that it’s only two lanes, one in each direction. That means that overtaking (safely) is practically impossible, and the speed limit is nominally 50 km/h. Everyone goes about 70km/h anyway, but it’s frustrating that you can’t put your foot down when you want to.
I initially thought that Muu was going to be a solitary sort of place in a small town, but Mutsu is geographically much larger than I expected. It really is mostly like any other town, though the blocks for each property are pretty big, so everything is more spread out. In that way, Muu doesn’t really stand out as much as I expected it to, though it is still a log cabin in Japan.
Nakagawa-san lives here with his dog, Arashi (his wife is away in Tokyo for work). Through some halting Japanese on my part, he invites me in and I cart my suitcase up the stairs to the room I’ll be staying in.
Caption: Muu is a richly furnished place, it’s picture-perfect in every way. I’m the only guest at Muu tonight, and the room I’m staying in is named Nanohana (菜の花). You can’t see it here, but the room has Bose speakers fixed to the wall, connected to an expensive amplifier. I’m guessing that Nakagawa-san really likes music.
Caption: Yeah, I’m sure that’s what the nameplate means.
Caption: From the other corner of Nanohana.
Caption: Japan really loves these ioniser air purifier things. I read the name as IDOL LIVE >_>
Caption: Arashi is so fluffy!
Caption: The bathroom is also full of books, magazines on various DiY topics, and neatly arranged volumes of classic manga series.
Caption: The other guest bedroom.