San Francisco Glacier in Chile

Friday, April 5, 2013

Sendai & Matsushima




In all, I spent a month in Japan in early 2000.  Tokyo was where I stayed most of the time, and I used it as a base to take trips west and north by shinkansen (bullet train).  The trip north took me to Sendai, the capital of Miyagi Prefecture.  I was meeting up with the Uomotas, a couple who runs a church in that area.  My connection to them was through an American friend, Dawn Herzog, who, incidentally I first met when she and a mutual friend of ours traveled to the Deep South.  They actually stayed at Lake Espy, had lunch with Uncle Watty and me, visited my mother's second-grade classroom, stopped by the bank to see me, and took a day trip with me to Seaside, Florida.  Their journey to Headland is a blog post unto itself!!!  Anyway, Dawn's uncle is Murrary Uomota, my contact in Sendai.  I stayed for a few days with him and his wife.


Murray Uomota (left) and his wife (next to me), standing with a friend of theirs, Mrs. Abe

Three things about my time at their home really stood out:  (1) the completely tiled floor and walled "wet bathrooms," which I later learned were most common throughout Asia.  Easy for cleaning!!!  (2)  The movie, Dr. Zhivago.  I had a vague awareness of it, but had not seen it - strangely, in spite of earlier travels to Russia and Central Asia.  The Uomotas had a copy, and I watched it before going to bed.  Watching it, right there in Japan, actually deepened my interest in Russian history.  (3)  For breakfast one morning, Mrs. Uomota served some barbecue eel on rice!   Although I had my doubts, and didn't think I even wanted to try it, I did.  And it was good!


Two more friends of the Uomota's: left, Mrs. Wakaki, right, Mrs. Igari

One day they gave me a tour of the city Sendai, and treated me to an International Buffet at Sendai Royal Park Hotel.  Later, we stopped off at the home of the lady in pink, and she brought out photo albums from trips she and her husband had taken to the USA.  The lady (again in pink) also first truly brought into my consciousness, to stick there, the name Douglas MacArthur, the American general of the Pacific theater who oversaw the unconditional surrender of the Japanese Empire and the writing of a new Japanese constitution.  It may shock you that I didn't know that.  It should!  And it should speak volumes about what's taught in some US schools, or at a very minimum, what's truly emphasized.  I might have heard the name MacArthur, but I couldn't have written a piece about him or properly told someone about him, and that's a tragedy.  This MacArthur epiphany is a blog post for another time!

Another day, I went out with this group of ladies and a guy from Texas (center).  The ladies belonged to an English class run by the Uomotos.   I had actually helped teach one class!  From left to right: me, Mrs. Horiuchi, Mrs. Abe, Grey Jackson, Mrs. Owaki, Mrs. Wakaki, Mrs. Ito

This was my first exposure to a Japanese meal displayed like this - a work of art really.  Perhaps a bento box?!?!?  I recall strugglng with the chopsticks.  The meal was delicious!!!!



Matsushima is a beautiful bay covered by 260 small islands.  To reach the area where you take boat tours you have to go about 20 minutes north of Sendai, right on the Pacific coast.  I went by myself, and I just recall seeing some lovely temples and bridges.  I didn't know much of the history - and still don't.  The video above give you more details.  Another thing I remember - because I was myself - is struggling to figure out where I was going to eat.  It was cold where I was, and it had been snowing some in Sendai and the Matsushima area.  I was wandering around, trying to get up the nerve to walk into a restaurant - one where I saw little English, if any, and no white westerners like me!  Hunger took over, and I reached a restaurant where they had some of the artificial foods displayed out front.  Went in, got a seat, and ordered some soup and some tea.  I still didn't know the eating customs or how to properly use chopsticks, and it can make you feel very self-conscious.  Finally, I just looked around and observed what others were doing, and I followed suit.  The fish soup really hit the spot!!!

a picture I took of a boat similar to the one I got on

colorful walking bridges and numerous pine-covered islands

A Hong Kong Chinese couple (Wai & Dorothy) on their honeymoon took this photo of me.  Wai and I became friends after this.   I met him in Hong Kong, where he gave me a tour of one of the islands and taught me how to properly use chopsticks.  I had a Russian fur hat that I had packed for this journey to Japan.   It was actually too small for my head!  I gave it to Wai just after he took this photo.

Matsushima is ranked as one of the  top views in all of Japan

A well-known apocryphal haiku often attributed to Matsuo Basho indicates that the poet is at a loss for words:

Matsushima ah!
A-ah, Matsushima, ah!
Matsushima, ah!

Special note:  You surely remember the devastating 1-2-3 punch that rocked Japan a little over two years ago.  First, an earthquake.  Second, a tsunami.  Third, a nuclear plant disaster.  The Sendai region took the brunt of the massive waves, and Fukushima, which is just down the road, is home to the nulcear plant.  Although there was an incredible loss of life, fortunately the Uomotas - and I believe all their friends - survived.  Matsushima, too, was pretty much left unscathed, thanks to the islands providing a natural barrier.  As for Sendai, the coastal areas took a real beating.  Rebuilding continues.  If you're interested in some theories as to why the Japanese did not really loot in the aftermath of the tsunami, click here.

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