Sunday, November 12, 2006

#192 Day 11: Towada to Aomori

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The Road to Hokkaido Tour 2006
Day 11: Towada to Aomori
Distance: 79 kms

Last night we arrived at lake Towada at about quarter to 5.

We stayed at Towada Kanko Hotel.
It was the first time this trip we’d stayed at a hotel that wasn’t a business hotel or a love hotel. I really noticed the difference. At this hotel they carry your bags. The rooms are really big ... there are yukata ... a restaurant, souvenir shop, nice baths, even two bars ... that weren’t open.
Usually these kinds of hotels are a lot more expensive than business hotels. But this one wasn’t that expensive. It cost 9000 yen.
Unfortunately, there was no internet. Well there was in the lobby area – but it was so slow they might as well not have bothered.
We bought local beer at the bottle shop opposite the hotel. This beer was quite nice – we also drank some apple beer ... I forgot to take a photo of it. Anyway, it wasn’t very good.

We went to have dinner at the only izakaya that was open. There were almost no customers and the woman serving us seemed really wasted and couldn’t answer simple questions like: what kind of nihonshu do you have?
She said it was her last night working so maybe she’d had a few drinks too many to celebrate.
We decided to leave asap but since there were no other places to eat we ordered a bit of food. I was worried about her cooking if she was drunk but the eda-mame and onigiri she gave us actually tasted really good.
As we were leaving she told us a long sad story about how this town used to be very busy but it wasn’t anymore.

There was one other bar open so we decided to check it out. It seemed like a kind of snack bar. A snack bar is a kind of hostess bar – the customers are usually men and there are women who are paid to talk to customers and smile and clap when they sing karaoke.
I’ve been to snack bars a couple of times – but I’ve always been disappointed ... I think they’re expensive and boring ... so I try to avoid them.
But this didn’t seem like a regular snack bar. There were other female customers, and the bartender said the charge system was just like an izakaya.

It turned out to be a lot of fun. Most of the customers were locals and we talked to them and sang with them. It was cool hearing people speak in Aomori-ben. I learnt a few words:

Wakyamai means wakaranai, I don’t know. Hondasune means soudesune, that’s right.

Near the end of the night this group of guys dressed in yukata called me over to talk to them. I thought they were just being really friendly but then they asked me if I was Russian and it turned out they thought I was working there. It was pretty funny being mistaken for a hostess considering my scruffy attire ... I really don’t look anything like a hostess.

I was asking them where they were from and in the process of answering two of them started having an argument for no apparent reason then half of the group abruptly left. The remaining two men – they were both in their 60s – proceeded to give me some fantastic advice: I should break up with my boyfriend, marry a very rich man and have children as soon as possible.

I usually don’t sing karaoke outside of a karaoke box because I’m shy about inflicting my singing on everyone in the bar. But I ended up singing a couple of songs. Luckily some people seem to think my out of tune singing and missing out kanji that I can’t read is more cute than awful.

The next day it was raining. We walked around the lake a bit.

It was really beautiful. The water was really clear. I thought it would be nice to swim in during the summer .. until I saw the soapy water flowing into the lake. Gross.

We bought a few things at a souvenir shop.

We walked into a restaurant to check their menu. We asked about the udon on the off chance that they would make it without the fish flavour. The woman said they wouldn’t do it because it wouldn’t taste as good. This didn’t surprise me at all after 5 and a half years of eating out in Japan. Most restaurants are very reluctant to alter any dish on the menu.
What was very surprising was that after we had said thanks anyway and started to walk down the stairs, she suddenly changed her mind. They made us udon with konbu dashi and soysauce. It tasted really, really good.

I think we were really lucky. I don’t think she would have done this if it was peak season – in May, August, October.

This restaurant closes tomorrow and most of the hotels, shops and restaurants all close in the next few days and stay closed until the end of winter.

She said it was a shame that we came when it was raining – because usually the lake is much more beautiful.
But I think we were lucky to come at this time because there were hardly any people and all the staff were relaxed because it was almost the end of the season ... so the atmosphere was really nice.

After lunch we drove to Aomori.
The weather forecast said that it might snow. We were really lucky that it didn’t because we haven’t got the studless tyres yet and we don’t have any chains.

Even though it was raining, the scenery was still beautiful. There were lots of moss-covered trees and rocks. And I liked the distortion effect the rain on the windows made.