The weather chose today to finally apologize, for the clouds to part to reveal the peak of Mt Iwate and the warm sun, the sun to tease my new sweatshirt from my shoulders.
I was glad of the relief because today we’d chosen to spend outdoors and upon the water, which would likely be particularly less pleasant in the rain. A shinkansen (more commonly known as a bullet train) sped us from Morioka to Ichinoseki. From there we took a bus deep into the hills, past farms, and perhaps a mining town to Geibikei or the Geibi Gorge.
A short walk brought us to the boat house (that’s not the right phrase because the boats launch from piers behind the house rather than being stored in the house, but I’m not sure what other word to use). A tour was just coming back and two middle-aged men caught us on our way to buy tickets and pushed their half full bag of fish feed into my hand. We thanked them profusely for the gift.
The riverboat is long and narrow with a platform at the back for the punter and shelves at the front for the guests’ shoes. Passengers sit on the tatami mats to peer over the sides of the boat while being poled down the river. The Satetsu River cuts between steep, wooded slopes and cliffs with wisteria twisting its way up several trees on the banks. Today was a day to just enjoy the wonder of God’s creation, to relax in the sunshine and the clean scent of river water and growing things, to point and ogle the creatures that He’s created—unfamiliar species of ducks, giant koi, carp, and catfish, hawks, and even a crane, the sight of which is said to be lucky—while whooping birdcalls echoed off the rock and water.
We threw bait to fish and ducks to lure them nearer to the boat and there was a small child aboard who called “ga ga” (“quack quack”) to the ducks as we passed.
Our boat docked briefly to allow us to go ashore farther downriver. A pathway led beneath fragrant wisteria, over a bridge, and past the “lion’s nose” for which Geibikei is named.
A man waited there selling rocks stamped with characters for “friendship,” “love,” “luck,” “wealth” and other such good fortunes. For 100 yen, you could choose five. Luck was supposed to come to those who could sling a stone into a small cave partway up one of the cliffsides and across the river. Kari and I both tried without luck. I don’t think anyone of our party got a stone into the cave, actually.
On the way back, as the boatman sang to us a warbling, traditional tune (“Geibi Oiwake”), we were passed by boats filled with 3rd years from Sapporo come to Iwate for their school trip. We waved to one another, calling “Konnichiwa!” and when they spotted Kari and I, even more enthusiastically, “Hello!”
Kari was able to talk with our fellow passengers and exchange stories, but I let myself just enjoy the natural beauty of the place.
When our tour returned, we wandered the village that has sprung up around Geibikei, where gardens and rice patties overwhelmed backyards and nestled up the roadsides. (The area seems to be called Higashiyamacho Nagasaka. Technically Geibikei is considered still inside the city limits of Ichinoseki, but the area around Geibikei definitely feels distinct from the city center more than a half hour’s drive away, and there are a great many farms and distinct “towns” between Geibikei and Ichinoseki’s shinkansen station.) We even found a kumano shrine near the convenience store. We also spent a fair bit of time in a souvenir shop by that specialized in and handmade washi paper.
We took the train rather than the bus back from Geibikei and so saw a great deal of the whole area of Ichinoseki.
The train wound more gently towards Ichinoseki but like the bus drove us past farmland primarily, dominated by rice patties shaped to fit the land.
Just outside Ichinoseki Station was a karaoke place. Karaoke in Japan is not what it is in America. In America, karaoke means getting up on a stage in front of strangers and singing from a usually very small set of songs and fumbling over the words because you don’t know the song as well as you thought you did and you’re nervous under the scrutiny of others. In Japan, karaoke can be done alone and is done in a private room. The walls of most homes, Kari explained, are too thin to blast music or belt a tune without bothering your neighbors and subjecting yourself to the very scrutiny that karaoke implies in America. So the Japanese have buildings specifically designed to muffle the sound of your voice. I was still nervous about singing along with a microphone and words on a screen. Perhaps it was too like scarring experiences in the States. I quite gladly sing without such paraphernalia in my kitchen, shower, in the sanctuary of my car, even on train and plane (though these last two I do only quietly).
We set out after an hour of Disney songs to find food, but were thwarted by the closing times of most restaurants and stores.
We did pass a teashop, its window filled with Japanese teapots and teacups. Knowing that I’d been requested to return to the States with tea, we ducked inside and as we browsed the selection of teas, teacups, teapots, and tea sweets were called over by the owners of the shop to share a pot of matcha green tea and a powdery cookie. The owners of the shop were eager to share their area with us and showed us pictures of Konjikido, a World Heritage site nearby. They were excited to see us, excited for what we might see. And they gave us tea. The smiles we shared were genuine and bright.
All photographs are mine. Click to see them larger. All maps are made using Google Maps.