One More Castle, a Pink Samurai Lady, and Mountains

At the end of our trip, we demonstrated our jadedness by being unimpressed by the castle at Aizu Wakamatsu (otherwise known as Tsuruga Jo). More memorable than  the castle itself, however, were the little pink samurai-ladies that Aizu had coated itself in. On all the light posts hung a banner, on every piece of tourist-trinket you can possibly imagine — Yae Niijima, a female warrior who helped defend the castle during one of the famous battles, and who is now the star of a big NHK historical drama. What the lady would have thought of the animated versions of herself remains a question — somehow we don’t think the woman stubborn enough to defy societal norms and pick up a gun would really have approved the feisty-yet-friendly all-pink-clad iteration. Since this trip we have watched the NHK show, and while some of it gets lost (particularly on me) it’s very pretty and very dramatic. Yae herself went on to continue confounding expectations — mastering the Japanese tea ceremony, becoming very involved in women’s education, marrying a Christian who believed strongly in women’s rights and being heavily criticized for being too ‘western’, adopting three children, and becoming a nurse in several of the Japanese wars.

For dinner we ventured out to find some kitakata ramen, which is a bit famous. We hadn’t remembered that it was a holiday, and so we drove through a dark and deserted town, somewhat worried that all the ramen shops would be closed, but then a bright neon light of a building among the rice fields beckoned us in. Kitakata ramen is distinguished from other ramen by the noodles (I believe) — they’re made with certain water, and are more kinky than other ramen noodles. It was good, but I’m not sure it was that much more special than some of the ramen we’ve had around Tokyo.

Last on our itinerary, we drove up the Bandai Azuma skyline to get some beautiful views of the mountains. About halfway along the skyway there is a highland marsh, sulpherous vents, and a little volcano crater, which resembles Fuji mountain, so they call it Azuma Ko-Fuji. (Ko is a prefix for a littler version of something, as I understand it. Cat, for example, is neko, but a kitten is ko-neko. So think of this as the kitten version of Fuji — climbable in ten minutes (with some huffing and puffing). We also meandered around the marshes a little, went and saw a second crater which has filled in with a small lake, and breathed the sulpherous fumes coming from the mountain. This whole part of Japan used to be a huge tourist area with lots of ski resorts for the winter, but since the disaster they’ve seen a huge drop-off in the tourist industry. Since the area is technically within Fukushima prefecture, people get scared that it has been somehow affected by radiation, but there is no evidence of that despite a lot of testing (both by the government and more impartial parties) and fretting. Nevertheless, wherever you go you see closed hotels and restaurants than can no longer keep afloat. Hopefully as people see that there is no danger in this part of Fukushima the tourist trade will return. This, I suppose, is one of the downsides of the Japanese tendency to all flock to the same locations at certain times to enjoy the delights of the season — when you’re not in vogue, you’re in some trouble.

We turned in our rental car and hopped a train home, bentos in hand, concluding our last trip in Japan! We’ll have a couple more posts of our last adventures around Tokyo — which involve me attempting to eat my weight in maguro before departure. 😉

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