7/28/19 – Ishinomaki

Updated: Jun 14, 2020

Japanese word of the day: haiyaku (はいやく) = hurry!

The ship arrived around 10AM at Ishinomaki, Japan. This town is known for being destroyed eight years ago in one of the largest earthquakes and tsunamis the world has ever seen. Because of that unfortunate natural disaster, this town has rebuilt itself in the past years and just started to welcome tourism again. Tourism is vital to uplifting the city to what it once was because it brings business and cash flow, so I was excited to go and give them well-needed business.

It was so cute to see the people of Ishinomaki lined up along the port with their tents and food trucks and music and dancing, welcoming us to their town. You could tell that they were genuinely happy to see us, and apparently this was the biggest cruise ship they have ever received. We docked at an industrial port, which meant that we had to take a shuttle into the actual city.

At the information stand, they had people wearing a vest that said “English” so we knew who to go to in order to ask for help. The lady who helped us was SO ADORABLE AND NICE and she was so happy in her responses. I’ve never seen someone so enthusiastic to help somebody before, and it just gave me such a warm feeling about the town. We ended up taking the shuttle to downtown instead of a taxi to a fish market (decisions, right?) which was nice because we could sit in an air conditioned vehicle to prepare for the insane heat and humidity that Ishinomaki greeted us with.

I had read beforehand that Ishinomaki is home to a famous manga artist. There is an entire museum dedicated to him that is shaped like a space shuttle, but what is most notable is the fact that life-size statues of his characters in full color exist all around the town on sidewalks and over entranceways. It was so cute to pass by in the bus and see ten characters lined up on the street, almost as if they were caught mid-action.

The shuttle brought us to a market where they were cutting fresh fish and selling packaged seafood and seasoning and treats and it was fascinating to see how affordable the variety of fish bowls were as well as how they prepared all of it. There were also high school students in kimonos standing outside of the market greeting tourists as they entered. It’s smart that they involve the high school students in the tourism industry because then they get to practice their English in real time with native English speakers. I find that there’s a big difference between studying it in school and actually speaking it in a real setting because you don’t have time to think when you’re in a live conversation. Languages are school are almost monotonous and systematic in tone and structure, while fluency requires a lot more flexibility and emotion. This is part of the reason why I’m scared of Spanish and why doing a full immersion program overseas might be better for me when it comes to learning a language. I have to force myself into a native setting in order to learn, otherwise I become a robot and just follow the textbook rules of the language.

There was a visitor’s center next door (with free WiFi!) and you could tell that they put a lot of thought into making the entire welcome one to remember. Right as you enter, there were four rows of wooden benches to your left in soft sunlight from the large glass walls of the building. This was all part of the tea ceremony that they were exhibiting for free, and they offered you a sesame mochi cake as well as matcha green tea in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony bowl. They then taught you how to turn the bowl and wipe the bowl and turn the bowl again in the procedure of a real tea ceremony. As they did that, a little girl in a kimono showcased the ceremonial tea preparation where everything was so precise. The way she folded the cloth to wipe the utensils and whisked the matcha and laid down the ladle onto the hot water thingy was so well-executed and had insane attention to detail.

We wanted to find a sushi restaurant because we saw how fresh the fish at the market looked, so we asked a local who was helping outside of the visitor’s center for a restaurant recommendation. He suggested a sushi restaurant about 8 minutes away by foot, which wasn’t bad at all. However, when we got to the restaurant we found that it was closed. We quickly realized that EVERYTHING in the town was closed except for the first market and the visitor’s center and a few convenience stores here and there. I’m still wondering: was it all closed because it was a Sunday or because everyone was out at the industrial dock to welcome the cruise visitors?

Daily drain pic

There was a park on a hill on the other side of town that I wanted to go to, so we walked there and up about five or so flights of stairs to the top of the hill. It wasn’t as hard as I expected since I took into account the humidity. I love climbing stairs :) seriously no sarcasm there; stairs are fun. I ran up every flight of stairs at UCLA last year and my friends thought I was insane.

(Update: I’m writing on the ship right now and every time I type a letter, there’s this sound outside and I think it’s the wind but it stops when I stop typing. I know I don’t believe in ghosts but IS THERE A GHOST OUTSIDE MY BALCONY WINDOW???)

The view at the top was rewarding and there was a cute little temple as well (of course it was closed as well). On the climb back down, we got a glimpse of a bunch of headstones clustered together and as we reached the bottom and walked along the adjacent street, we could see up the hill that the headstones extended all the way along the street to a beautiful temple on the corner (closed). Every resident of Ishinomaki lost someone they knew during the tsunami, which had the most casualties of any tsunami ever. All the headstones were new, and my mom pointed out that those were the lucky ones for who they could find that body for. My heart goes out to all the residents of the town; despite the pain and suffering and loss and heartbreak they endured after the tsunami, it’s amazing and honorable that they are still smiling and strong as they move forward. Every face that I saw at the port and at the visitor’s center and at the market saw this destruction and encountered some devastation to their home and to their loved ones. I have nothing but admiration and respect for everyone in Ishinomaki.

When we were about to get back on the bus, I looked at the map and realized that we went to the wrong park and the park I actually wanted to go to was the next hill over. I guess this just means that we’ll have to come back one day 🙂

Tomorrow we’re going to Hakodate where I expect to see the most amazing architectural and landscaping creation for a military base as well as the rejuvenation of the morning market and aesthetic brick walls of the warehouses. Can’t wait to check in afterwards! Sayonara!

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