Wednesday, February 14, 2007

My Trip to Ibaraki, and Other Stories

I have spoken before about how I began to not mind Natto (fermented Japanese soybeans that come with an assortment of live bacteria), and eventually came to like it. This is the follow-up of that story. Gradually, that like transformed into love, and now it borders on obsession. I eat Natto everyday, sometimes twice a day. I will go to the store just to buy Natto. Even if it is raining. Now, it seemed logical to me that, if I liked Natto I should see how it is made. I made it my goal to visit a Natto factory. And that was how my adventure began.

Yuri came over on Thursday night of last week to help me give Fuzzy a hair cut (Fuzzy, by the way, is doing very well).
I used Fuzzy's mushrooms as part of a fantastic pasta sauce that I made from scratch. As Yuri and I sat around enjoying my pasta, we discussed our weekend plans. It was a three day weekend, and I was just dying to go somewhere. I suggested that we go to Ibaraki to visit a Natto factory. Yuri rejected the idea. Ibaraki was too far. At least a 3 hour drive. Not to mention she had a concert to go to and shopping she had to do for a friend's wedding. Ibaraki was out of the question.

But the next morning I received a text message telling me to pack my bags, as we would be leaving for Ibaraki at 5 am on Saturday morning in order to beat traffic. Yuri had thought a little more about it and decided "why not?" After deciding to go, Yuri goes all out. Here is a picture of the rising sun that greeted us at around 6:30 on our way from Gunma to Ibaraki.
At around 9 am we arrived at Toyota Castle, which is a giant castle located in a resource rich plain that is a strategist's nightmare. Nothing but flat land as far as the eye can see.
This was yet another reconstructed Japanese castle. the outside was authentic, but the inside was just a museum. Not like Himeiji-jo.
Here is the view of Yuri's car from the top of the castle. It's the tiny black one. That car, by the way, is super efficient. W refueled once the entire trip.
This was great. Out side the castle was "Ben Ten Bashi", the "Speech of Heaven Bridge".
Here is the Ben Ten Bashi. It was about 2 meters long. The speech of Heaven isn't long, after all.
Our next stop was Tsukuba, a town devoted to science. Tsukuba houses one of the main branches of JAXA, the Japanese space agency, as well as several universities, nationally and privately funded research complexes and science museums. Here is Yuri with one of the JAXA satellites.
And me with one.
Tsukuba is famous, not only for it's science, but also for its bread. Yuri and I decided to sample the fare of several bakeries so that we could get a taste of the city. Here is Yuri finishing the last piece of carrot bread from our first stop.
The line at the next shop was incredible. It wound around the entire shop and out the door.
But it did have very cute "Kameron" bread.
After lunch, Yuri and I went to a geology museum which had both Dinosaur footprints...
and the Dinosaurs themselves. Switch to purple, it's philosophy time. Recently I have come to detest oil quite a lot. I am gradually becoming a practicing environmentalist. I have been reducing my consumption of electricity and limiting the amounts of garbage that I produce. I have also been researching the economic viability of photovoltaic and other sources of clean energy. I want to make my existence less of a burden to the other inhabitants of this planet, and so I am trying to do so by being more efficient. I'd rather get used to a lifestyle of efficiency now, before such a lifestyle is forced on me at a later date by circumstances beyond my control.

In the process I have though a lot about fossil fuels. The relationship between fossil fuels and humans is complicated, I think. Without fossil fuels we would have never had the energy necessary to develop the technology to make the use of fossil fuels obsolete. We almost have that technology, but since we are accustomed to using fossil fuels, developing those technologies is not as high a priority as, perhaps, it should be.

If you wait for photovoltaic to be economically viable it will be too late. Be ahead of the curve, because, this time, the curve hurts.
Anyway, back to the trip. We then went across the street from the Geology museum to what must have been a national research laboratory showroom. Yuri called ahead and got us a private tour with a very nice woman. This showroom had all kinds of great stuff, but mostly it had robots. Humanoid robots, robot arms and this baby seal robot that responds to how you treat it. The researchers are trying to make functional robotic pets for people who are in hospitals where pets are not allowed. When you petted this seal it purred and there were some places where it liked to be petted more than others.
This was a robot that could disassemble and reassemble itself so as to fit through small cracks in the rubble of a disaster and assist survivors on the other side.
This was a recumbent bike that made me sure that I don't want a recumbent bike.
After the tour was over, we began to talk to our guide. She asked where I was from and I said Hawaii. She asked if I knew a school named HPA and I informed her that I did. I then learned that her daughter was about to graduate from HPA and that she and her husband were looking into moving to Hawaii, made possible by the fact that her daughter has dual US/Japanese citizenship. I gave her my contact information, and hope that if she does decide to move to Hawaii, she will let me help.

Then Yuri and I went to another science museum, which actually had a full sized Japanese rocket outside.
Now we learned that this museum had an activity where you could make your own "Kairo" (chemical hand warmer). I was very excited to try, so I sat down with the other preschoolers and set to work folding paper into a bag, adding ingredients...
and decorating. The kairo was actually hot when I was done! Very cool, er, hot.
After making the kairo, we played in the museum for a while, then went to the planetarium to watch a show about the winter sky. Both of us fell asleep and slept almost the entire time. We then left the museum and began our drive to Tochigi prefecture, which is where Yuri's twin sister, Eri, lives. It took a very long time to get to Tochigi. Almost 2 hours. When we finally arrived it was late at night. Just enough time to convince Eri and her friend Waka to drive us around the next day.

The next day we rose early again and, in an attempt to see the sun rise, made a bee line for the coast. No luck, however, the sun beat us to it. At about 8:30 we arrived at this beach, which was quite beautiful and not very crowded (because it is winter). It was good to see the ocean again.
I found some kelp on the beach and found that it fit perfectly in my nose.
Here we as racing along the beach. By the way, that think in the background is a nuclear power plant that had a radiation leak 2 years ago that killed a technician.
We drove down the coast (which looks very similar to the California coast) for another 25 minutes and ended up at Oarai, where we went to a fish market. The fish market had the usual fare: fish organs...
sea cucumbers...
fish on drying racks...
more fish on drying racks...
and angler fish. We had angler fish nabe for lunch. Good, but a little expensive.
There was also a really friendly merchant at the fish market who gave me a Medama Ojisan strap to put on my phone.

After we finished in Oarai, we drove to the Natto factory. Here I am at the Natto museum.
Here is one of the ways that people used to make natto. When the knife starts to get wet, you know that the Natto is done.
Sadly, the Natto factory was not giving tours because it was Sunday. Rats. Oh well, I have no problem going back.

Our next stop was Mito, a city famous for Natto, flower blossoms, and the famous traveling judge that came from Mito. This guy, shown in the picture below, would travel around pretending to be a regular person, and when he saw people doing evil things, he would judge them. Since he was a friend of the Shogun, he could pass judgement on both the rich and the poor, and is, as a result, very popular today.
Here is the Natto shop in the basement of Mito station.
And here is a shrine in Mito.
And an ancient armoured car.
This is the Mito "Art Tower" which is outside the museam of fine arts. Sadly, the tower and museam were both closed when we arrived.
Here is the museam.
A great scene for an epic movie.
Our group on the second day. From left to right Eri, Waka and Yuri.
After a lot of searching, we finally arrived at a Natto and Tonkatsu place for dinner.
It was delicious.
Our breakfast the next morning consisted of all the Natto we bought as souviners the day before. Here I am smelling the Natto that was packeged in the ancient style.
Ohhhhhh! Delicious!
Our natto-licious breakfast.
And for lunch, on the way back to Gunma, Yuri and I stopped at a resturant famous for some of the best Gyoza in Japan.
We also stopped by the factory outlet stores on the border of Tochigi and Gunma. It turns out they had a Lego store! Yuri then exclaimed that she never understood why Legos were fun. Shocked, I bought a set for her so that she could give it a try.
Well, as it turns out, Yuri is a natural when it comes to Legos. She made this robot in about 20 minutes without looking at the instructions at all, and she used every peice. In short, she is better at playing with Lego then I am, and I spent most of my childhood playing with Legos.
This has been a long post. Writing it has left me as tired as I was after the actual trip. I hope you had as much fun reading about it as I had doing it, but I strongly doubt it.


Anonymous said...

Keep the blogs coming ,mom loves it (so do eye)ha ha I spelled I wrong

Mom said...

After seeing all that natto, I am sorry that we didn't get to see how it is made. Looks like my kind of trip, lots of museums and points of interest.


Trenton said...

Ha ha, you did spell "I" wrong. There are many mispellings in this post too. Sorry. Spellcheck can't deal with my unique spellings.

Jeff Caffery said...

Sup Trent, incredible post. Sounds like you had an amazing time. I'm definitely gonna have to swing by the JAXA place with you, and use you as a translator to compare some notes. Believe it or not, I tired to get a job with JAXA before I came over as an English teacher - yeah, that didn't fly. These days, I'm envisioning going back to work at the cape after my stint here - maybe after a couple more years, JAXA will start to look like a viable option. Anyway, too big for my britches. I'm on for the next trip, though. I want to check out that castle, and the robo-pets look like a winner. I could give the natto a miss, though...