Thursday, March 31, 2011

Last day in Hirosaki - and life in Utsunomiya

I started this draft about three weeks ago on our last day in Hirosaki and I decided to keep it. I've asterisked the paragraphs that are old and added new annotative ones, along with some photos. We've been without the internet for a while you see, but we're now back online.

*Well, it's been two months, but they've flown by almost as if we arrived yesterday. The snow has held out longer than I thought, and there are still piles of it, melting away. The seasons now seem to have changed though, and I am confident that Hirosaki will no longer see any accumulating snowfalls.

Me and Okaasan enjoying our last beer together in Hirosaki, the day before we left for the south. If you look carefully, you will notice that the hand on her shoulder isn't actually mine! Pretty freaky, since I have no idea whose hand it is!

Here in Utsunomiya, the weather has been much warmer, but this past week saw a sudden drop for some reason. Forecasts suggest a climb (in temperature) next week though, and we even heard the cicadas making their din for the first time last night! Summer's on its way!

The school where I work. Classrooms to the right, playground to the left. I'll take some shots of my classroom and the funky displays we've been making next week.

*The time we have spent here has been heavily overshadowed by the recent earthquake and subsequent misery. Although our day to day lives have been comparatively unaffected by what happened further south (apart from the fuel shortage), we are still concerned about its continuing affect on the whole of the country, and in particular Fukushima and surrounding kens. Tochigi borders Fukushima to the south, and we will be living in the south of that prefecture, which puts us at about 150km distance from the nuclear power plant crisis. However, it is still a concern, and we will have to get used to power saving measures such as planned blackouts every day, early shop closures, and dark shop/public building interiors. The latter of which is already a common feature in Hirosaki anyway.

There is actually no apparent affect to the area where we are living now. The only thing that we see on a regular basis is a large number of Jieitai (SDF) vehicles and helicopters coming and going from the base in Utsunomiya to the disaster zone up north. People don't seem to be concerned about the possibility of radiation leaks anymore, at least not this far south anyway, and the local food and water is not considered to be dodgy.

Famous Tochigi strawberries. They are good sweet fruits and less than a quid per punnet from the farm where I buy mine. At that price, I won't need to grow my own!

*The map above shows the distance between the Fukushima nuclear power plant which is in crisis (blue dot to the north), and Utsunomiya (blue dot to the south). As you can see, it's much closer to the problem than Aomori, which is shown on the map at the top of the main island. There have been no reports of problematic levels of radiation there, yet!

As mentioned above, people here are not altering their lifestyles due to what has happened in Fukushima. All shortages of goods have been recovered and life here is no different to how it is in the rest of the country. That aside, I am bracing for the subsequent recession that people are predicting for the next couple of years. At the minute though, if you head to Interpark on a Sunday afternoon you would not believe for a minute that Japan's economy was stalling. Folks are consuming like maniacs around here.

Three weeks have passed, and I can now confidently say that the job, apartment, and locality in general are really nice. One downer is that onsens (hot spring spas) are not quite as abundant here as they are in Aomori, which makes our bi-weekly bathing trips something to think about. I'm sure we'll find somewhere that we like eventually and stick with it. Until then though, we're checking out the few onsens around Utsunomiya, and at the weekend we are heading a bit further north to the mountainous areas where there are more to choose from. At some point I might write a paragraph describing the onsen we went to last Saturday in the foothills of Nikko national park. A serene spot, with a 100m electricity pylon right in the middle of the hotel grounds. Only in Japan!!

Our new Mitsubishi EK Wagon. It is supposed to do 50 miles to the gallon on the open road, but so far we've mainly been stuck in traffic. We have to wear the yellow and green badges for some reason, since we've been out of the country for a few years and we both have speeding records on our licenses.

Aki is busy looking for jobs. She's been focused on those which involve speaking English until now, but I think she's going to broaden her search soon if she doesn't get any leads. She has kept herself busy preparing our new vegetable garden though, which we have kindly been lent by the estate agent who manages our apartment. He's given us a really big piece of land right next to where we live, which we are going to make the most of this summer. Sweet potatoes are my challenge this year, but I've been told that they do very well in this climate, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Aki, in our bedroom, trying to touch her toes.

The following shots are from our apartment.

Our apartment is in need of more furniture, which we will start to buy once I get paid. Apart from that it's really nice, and spacious compared to other apartments where I've lived in Japan. We have about 50 square metres of growing land right next door. It's so close, Aki can literally pass me a full watering can out of the kitchen window.

A house on the way to school. I get a good hour's worth of cycling everyday, apart from Wednesdays, when Aki takes me in and I run back. It's a good five mile run, and I have been keeping up my regular 10k at the weekend as well.