You might be thinking, why the bad pun, Sam? Because I am British and we are a punny people. Part 2 of my Winter/Spring travels.
That was Hokkaido, this is now. Well not now, but a week afterwards. You saw the boat journey, we took it from coast to coast. Reaching Sendai in the morning and catching a bus to the city centre. I’m not sure why we chose Sendai as our next stop, but we did and we went, it was cold but there was less snow. Regarding the city’s planning, it seemed more familiar than Sapporo: giant department stores, walk through shopping arcades and overpasses that looked down onto busy roads, confusing streets you’d get lost in – like a real city.
The weather was overcast most of the time, cold with a blistering wind, so were wrapped up pretty much the same as we did in Sapporo. That’s winter travelling for you. The main difference being how cold our air bnb was in comparison to Ebun’s flat. I have heard that insulation in Hokkaido is a lot better than anywhere else in Japan. We were staying in a tall black building as the only guests in a hostel. It was nice to have so much space to ourselves although the cold left us under the kotatsu for most of our time indoors.
Only spending three days there, we decided to cycle around the city our first night and the next day explore the city. Sendai was a really cool city with a lot of museums and galleries. However being shitty tourists we only went to one. The Sendai Mediatheque was designed by Toyo Ito, the same guy who conceptualised ICLA’s building and dorms. It’s an open plan library with gallery space and studios. When we decided to go we managed to catch the last half hour of a design graduate show. There were interactive pieces varying from holographic projections to magazines. A particular favourite of mine was a collection of shapes you put on a board, once placed they emitted animated shapes that bumped into each other producing sounds and creating a pleasant cacophony.
The following day we took a train to Matsushima, 260 islands covered in pines. Its name derives from this feature – shima meaning island and matsu meaning pine. It was painfully beautiful. Crossing giant red bridge, we wandered around one of the bigger islands and the only one accessible to tourists. All my photos from Sendai are of Matsushima, all other photos are stolen from Hannah.
Walking around we started to wonder if travelling was exclusive to couples. Only realising later that it was Valentine’s Day.
That night was also our last, in Sendai and together, so we wanted to have a few drinks and some food. Finding somewhere to eat proved difficult, the first three were packed full, but we were hungry and determined. Eventually we happened upon a strange izakaya overflowing with retro posters and kitsch, playing music from the 50s and toys galore. Eating cheap fingerfood that was pretty hit-and-miss, the fried tofu wasn’t as crispy as I had hoped. We decided to get nomihoudai (all you can drink) and tried all the colourful cocktails. Being a busy night, the waiters didn’t seem to be assigned to any particular area, every order was with a different person, each kept adding the drinks to our bill. In drunken courage I stuffed a bunch of receipts into my back pocket. Relying on our gaijin-card (our inability to speak Japanese) they waiters collected behind us after we ordered another drink trying to work out the discrepancy. We played ignorance and battled with our own confusion and guilt. The bill added up to 7000 yen until we reminded them that we had ordered nomihoudai which chopped 3000 yen off. Victoriously we left, on the drunk end of tipsy and came to the conclusion that karaoke was our next stop.
We chose the karaoke place near our hostel and got trapped into applying for membership, the gaijin-card came back to bite us, before ordering nomihoudai again and dancing around the room screeching Bohemian Rhapsody. After two hours we left, too drunk and tired to continue, neither Hannah nor I remember paying yet our wallets were lighter in the morning. I recall us going to a Family Mart convenience store, Hannah wanted some onigiri as I used her as a human crutch, and from there back to the hostel. The downstairs electricity wasn’t working. Bumping our shins up to the next floor, we reached our room and made it into our beds. I woke up the next morning with a sprained ankle and my appetite missing. Vague recollections of the night before still haunt me.
The next day we would separate. Hannah was heading off to do a workaway in Fukushima at a cat sanctuary midday whilst I was catching a late flight to Osaka for my own workaway at a hostel in Kobe. I was feeling sick most of the day. My appetite had been weakened by the previous night’s heavy drinking and fried food. It was a familiar feeling, not the bearable discomfort of a hangover, something worse.
Since the intense years of A-levels I would get stomach pains paired with a loss of appetite. This would make me feel uncomfortable and exhausted. All I could do was sleep and eat bread. I thought it was either stress related or IBS but my previous efforts at diagnosis would result in leaving my GP’s office with a prescription for Gaviscon. Luckily the pains hadn’t started and it was more a lack of appetite at this stage.
I was sad to say goodbye to Hannah, nervous to fly across Honshu and be surrounded by strangers for the next month in an unfamiliar place. I spent the day jumping from cafe to cafe reading Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, advancing from chapter three to ten.
I had only explored the areas of Sendai that hadn’t been affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Downtown was too far inland to have serious damage and Matsushima’s many unihabited islands and protected the area. We were sheltered tourists in that way. I recently watched Sion Sono’s ‘Himizu’ set in Sendai. The film showed a different side of Sendai, the issues of displacement and trauma seeming so distant from what I had seen, yet it was a catastrophic humanitarian disaster that many are still navigating through.
I reached the airport an hour before my flight. I called my Mum, my brother and my friend. The nervousness had escalated to apprehension and fear, my stomach was hurting, I was tired from travelling around aimlessly. I wanted the familiar. My depression had plateaued somewhat, but winter has this hopeless melancholy about it, slowly chewing me inside out. I boarded my flight. I couldn’t see any clouds or stars, I wasn’t even in a window seat. The plane ascended and I left the north for Kansai.
Next up is a month in Kobe, a week in Niino and a day in Kyoto as well as a report about Japanese hospitals and my first experience having to pay for healthcare.