November 21, 2019

Capstone Class of 2020: Tohoku Sightseeing

Day 6 of the tour portion of Capstone led us to the beautiful Lake Towada.   Unfortunately, it was pouring down rain, about 40 degrees, and snowing by the time we left, so we didn’t get to see much. Our party looked up some stats and learned that Lake Towada, an in-land volcanic lake of fresh water is bigger at the surface than Oregon’s Crater Lake at 61.1 square kilometers (whereas Crater Lake is 53.35 square kilometers). However, Oregonians can still feel proud that Lake Towada is only 327 meters deep, whereas Crater Lake is a whopping 594 meters deep!

After a snowy drive through the mountains in central Aomori prefecture we wound up in Nebuta Village, where they displayed the “Nebuta”, traditional festival floats of brave warrior-figures that are carried through the center of the city during traditional festivals. Here the kids got to play Taiko drums together, as well as witness a wonderful Shamisen duo that performed for the hall. That night we pulled into the city of Hirosaki so we could visit our first castle the next morning.

Hirosaki Castle is an Edo period castle constructed in 1611, which became the seat of power for the Tsugaru clan until the clan surrendered it to the new Meiji government in 1871. Although much of the walls and secondary structures were pulled down during Imperial Japanese rule, the moats, gates and a few of the main structures remain intact. In fact, while we were there, the government was restoring the foundation of the main keep, and had moved it off its original foundation using hydraulic jacks and rollers in order to repair the foundation. It didn’t keep us from exploring it though, or taking the classic TIS Capstone pic!

Later that morning we ventured to the Sannai-Maruyama Archeological Site. This area was an early home to the Jomon people of Japanese prehistory, and settled around 3900 BCE. Fun fact: it was first discovered in 1992 when the Aomori Prefecture started surveying the site for a planned baseball stadium, and instead discovered this rich tapestry of historical finds. The original digs were preserved and studied while the government reconstructed many of the original structures and dwellings per current archeological knowledge. Don’t worry, we checked, they did eventually find a better place for the new baseball stadium.

After lunch we got a chance to visit the Nebuta Museum (see above) where you not only got to experience how one of these massive floats are built, but got a chance to view the last several year’s first place winners in design. It was interesting to learn that these enormous floats are created every year by hand, displayed and paraded during the annual festival, then ritually destroyed to be reborn the next year with new floats. The museum only preserves the winners of each year’s floats. It was breathtaking to experience the craftsmanship that went into each one.

Lastly, we got to visit Asmushi Aquarium which included a live dolphin show!

Finally, it was time to head North to Hokkaido. We bid a fond farewell to our travel guide and boarded the bullet train and the under water tunnel to Hakodate.