Although rain was in the forecast we had a wonderful visit to Aomori. The guide we had made the tour here even better. He had spent many years working in Pittsburgh and his English skills were superb. Better yet his time in the US gave him many insights into how the Japanese are different from Westerners. We could have listened to him for hours. He started by hanging up a world map with Japan in the middle - the world from their point of view. He said as a child he could never understand why he was in the Far East when he clearly was in the middle. To him Boston is in the Far East. More on his views and opinions later.
Our first stop was at the Seiryu-ji Temple, the site of Japan’s largest seated Buddha. The temple complex was built in 1982 by a priest who was disturbed by the effect the separation of church and state, required as part of the WWII peace agreement, has had on the morals, culture, ethics and spiritual health of the nation. (Sounds familiar….) He said, “We Japanese are enjoying an affluent life. We should not forget our gratitude and reverence for the war dead who sacrificed themselves for the nation and laid a foundation for today’s affluence.” I suspect our side might have a different take on this. Our guide was quite irreverent, which he claimed is pretty much the way most Japanese feel. He said they are spiritual rather than religious and called themselves Shinto and Buddhist at the same time. They go to temples at ritualistic times, such as the first birthday of a child. This is a celebration that is repeated at ages five and nine from a time when children often did not live that long. The guide pointed to a marble wall which listed the names of all the big donors to the temple. He clearly found this offensive. We would, too. Nevertheless the temple and the buildings on its grounds were beautiful and the place oozed tranquility, a country refuge from the hustle bustle of city life. Brides often choose to marry in Christian churches, because it seems so romantic to them after they have watched too many of our movies. Special wedding halls, built to look like Christian churches, fill this need without getting into religious beliefs at all.
Then we visited Mt. Hakkoda and took a cable car over 4,000 feet to the summit for a magnificent view. The clouds were higher than we were and we had great views of the Towada Hachimantai National Park below. People come here to ski six months of the year and we could still see patches of snow in the thicker underbrush. If we looked hard we could see our ship docked in the bay below.
Then we visited Sannai-Maruyama, a special national historical site where the residents of Aomori planned to build a baseball stadium until they started digging and found all sorts of evidence of human habitation from 5,000 years ago. Lots of educated guessing is on exhibit here since most of the building materials have decayed long ago. Archeologists looked at the holes in the ground that the footings had left behind in support of the buildings that the ancient civilization lived, worked and worshiped in and built new structures from cedar and thatch that fit those same dimensions. (Since large cedar trees are regarded as national treasures, the larger building supplies were brought in from Russia.) They also found a special cemetery where children who had died were buried in clay jars. Aomori still does not have a baseball stadium.
Then we headed back to town to visit Nebuta Warwasse which houses the five best floats from last year’s Nebuta Festival. Most of the year Aomori is a quiet town, but in August, the festival brings in millions of visitors to view the parades of colorful mostly paper floats lit from inside and carried on the shoulders of paraders. If they dress appropriately, even out of towners can participate in the parades. The bright colors and fantastic designs were amazing. The floats are created from 3-D models or paintings and the only limit is the imagination. It made me think of Mardi Gras.
It was a great way to spend a milestone birthday.