福島県 ふくしまけん Fukushima-ken
Today, Saturday, I spent an eventful and busy day touring Fukushima-ken with my host parents. Fukushima is the prefecture immediately north of Tochigi-ken. In Japan, there are not states, but instead “Prefectures.” The grand total of prefectures now runs at 47, yet back during the Meiji reform when the prefectural system was first instituted there were as many as 300. Today Fukushima-ken is the third largest prefecture in Japan according to size, yet it ranks 18th in population. That being said, Fukushima has long been recognized as an important region for such treasures as Edo castles, endless hot springs, beautiful mountains, lots of open countryside, one of the three national cherry trees of Japan, and some of the best ramen on the entire island! I’d driven through the region once with Chisaki Iijima and her family during winter break but was very happy to return today with my host parents in order to explore the area even more!
The day started early (well, early for a lazy 19-year-old guy) at 8:30 and we were crossing out of Tochigi and into Fukushima by 9:30. A quick note on Japanese roads and driving, the fact that Japan is only the size of California does not at all imply that you can travel as quickly by car here as you can back in the states.
As the crow flies I bet I only traveled 70-80 miles north today, yet the drive still took us nearly 3½ hours. The region I’m in is so full of mountains, narrow country lanes, highway tunnels that might as well be coalmines, and thick pine forests that it takes double or triple as long to go the same distance as it would back home.
Today, once again I’ll try to take you along for the ride. The power of pictures are, as always, far more effective than any clever or insightful words I can try to come up with late on a Saturday night. I’ve been in bed here for the past hour, listening to music, uploading pictures and wondering if my life could ever have taken a bigger 180© turn from where I was a year ago at this time. Last April I was up to my neck in homework, school and a job, add trying to pick a university in there, trying to prepare yourself for graduation, readying yourself for youth exchange, and the odd Japanese tutoring session and life starts to look pretty different from my care-free days right now in quiet Nakagawa-machi, Japan. I have had time to compare both life styles during my time here and I can honestly say that I enjoy parts of both. A daily schedule that is full with exciting people, places, and events is when I succeed best, but a bit of peace and quiet has its appeal to me now also. It makes me excited to be at the University of Denver next year
[cue dramatic mountain scene]
where I know I’ll be super busy (American upbringing) but where I’ll be in charge of my own schedule and actions, leaving room for a little reflection, relaxation, and the odd hobby every now and then too (Japanese revelation).