The Aomori Cherry Blossom Festival

Our hosts and best friends Reiko and Isao

Travel about as far as you can on the main island of Japan and you will hit the town of Aomori just short of Hokkaido. We traveled on the bullet train that made the trip in a few hours and was as comfortable and as luxurious as first class on a plane.

We had just arrived from China and hardly gotten ourselves organized but Reiko and Isao had us so comfortably ensconced in their apartment in Roppongi the night before that we were ready to roll the next day. We bought snacks on the platform but the train had a girl serving goodies from a rolling cart on the train.

The part of Japan we were traveling to is called Hirosaki which means “white head.” If you stand the island up, we were headed for the head and it was white with snow, still in May, with ski trails visible as we drew closer. In fact many of the high mountains were blanketed in heavy snow. Isao told us a terrible story about a company of Japanese soldiers training for war against Russia. Their commander led the raw recruits up into the mountains and of the 210 who went up, only 11 survived. There are many sad memories of WWII here. Much of the countryside looks new because so many of the towns burned during the war. We forget…

We also passed through Fukushima. Apparently. the authorities have deemed it safe to return but Reiko told me that atomic waste has been swept up and left in bags beside school yards. How safe is that? Strange to be seeing all this so closely.

Shogun castle. We were able to go up inside.

After we arrived, we were able to leave our bags in a tent near the station. This festival brings many people from all parts of Japan so there is a crowded, holiday air to the place. We took a taxi to the park where a renovated shogun castle is the centerpiece of this amazing display of cherry trees. No one speaks English but I was able to buy my favorite treat, sweet rice cakes. from a vendor. Lots of small stalls sell goodies and trinkets. 

I followed a couple of professional photographers trying to get a decent shot, but Isao always seemed to have the best vantage point saved for me.

 

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Zhujiajiao, the Venice of China

On April 25 we did a wonderful side excursion to Zhujiajiao, a picturesque city on a series of canals, served by six person boats paddled like gondolas. Walked through a rich man’s house built before the troubles, then boarded the boats that took us deep into the city. 

Explored the city for the next half day, marveling at the merchants with tourist trinkets but also great grilled meat and dried ginger. All kinds of nuts, fruits and spices. Looked at lots, bought only ginger. Was tempted by fancy chocolate store with chocolate Mah Jong set. Too expensive at $50.

Sandra and her daughter, Anne, dressed up in Chinese outfits and had their pictures taken. We toured an antique pharmacy and post office.

 

Tianzifang

On the evening of April 23 Carol, Tom and I did anther runner. The tour was going to a show and I had read my guidebook. Must see Tianzifang. I asked at the hotel desk and they wrote it in characters, provided me with a card that said in Chinese “take me back to this hotel,” secured a price about $6., and hailed us a cab.

I was very unsure of what I had gotten us into but the cabbie seemed to know. We traveled way across the city to another very nice district. The place we were looking for was a warren of streets entered through an arch that reminded me of going into a suk in the Middle East. Turned out to be a twisting, turning series of marvelous shops, small restaurants, snack places, and ice cream shops.

We had a wonderful quiet dinner of pork and beef with clam broth, hot sake and ice cream for dessert. Carol bought a wonderful jade bracelet but the shop keeper couldn’t take her credit card. The store man across the alley said he could but he needed to go to the place where the machine was located. He took off running with Carol behind him when she remembered the fatal words of our guide, “never follow anyone into an unknown area.” But the adventure turned out okay. The man had a machine, he returned Carol to us, and she had her beautiful bracelet.

I found wonderful red shoes but the largest size was 7 and I wear an 8. Chinese clothes and shoes do not fit American bodies.

Cab back to hotel without incident. Wonderful time and great food.

April 23

Beggar outside, on eof the only ones I ever saw.

Went to Jade Buddha temple, got photos of monks down the corridors.Then on to a hot house with a garden, remade after the Red Guard. Narrow paths and too many tourists. Market outside interesting. I bought a suit for my grandson and two kites. Had visited a silk factory for scarves.

Tom at temple

Shanghai

Flight to Shanghai seriously delayed because the Chinese government was trying out take offs and landings for the largest passenger plane in the world that they just developed. Big news around the world. They were carrying a bunch of pilots and engineers.

Temple

Tom looking at temple drawing

Rode fastest train in the world a short distance into town from airport. China always has the biggest, the fastest. Ride was seven minutes. Visited another temple.

 

 

 

 

Walk on Bund

Shanghai skyline

Night cruise

View from night cruise

Crowds in downtown Shanghai

Eating at upstairs dumpling place. Very typical

Visited crowded downtown area, ate at typical dumpling restaurant. Walked the bund. A very hot, sunny day. Exhausted by the time we reached very nice Marriott Courtyard Hotel. Dinner, then went on night cruise around harbor. EXTREMELY crowded boat dock. Hundreds of Chinese tourists pushing, pushing. Our local guide, Leo, had some cousin or uncle in the cruise company and secured us the VIP suite with sofas and a bar at the front of the boat. Real posh. As one woman said, “I could get used to this.”

Muslim Quarter in Xian

My guide book said not to miss the Muslim Quarter in Xian and when we asked about it, our hotel indicated that it right behind the Marriott on an adjacent street. How handy. The quarter is a series of winding streets, not on our tour, so we escaped while others were out at shows and strolled through the streets. Found two amazing restaurants, reasonably cheap and delicious with real ethnic food. Pictured is Carol and Sandra, two intrepid explorers and always up for a night out of the tour. We are eating local fish cooked over a bed of mushrooms, onions, cabbage, carrots and other vegetable delights. Poor Tom, no beer in Muslim establishments.

Muslim woman manning the ice cream stall.

On the way back to the hotel we ate home made ice lollies in fruit flavors: mango, kiwi, dragon fruit as well as lemon, banana and chocolate.