After-Dinner Entertainment 

After dinner on Saturday night, Matthew and one of our companions played a friendly game of shogi, a Japanese variant of chess. The rest of us drank and cheered them on.

Matthew emerged victorious after a long endgame. Next time, we'll play an all-American game: Monopoly.
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Teeny-Tiny Railroad Crossing 

Rice field roads need grade crossings, too ― just not very big ones.

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Music on the Wind 

Iwate Prefecture is famous in Japan for its ironwork, Nanbu-tekki. Although kettles and pots are the most traditional products, ironworkers now make a wide variety of goods, including windchimes

Nanbu-tekki windchimes currently hang from the platform rafters at JR Mizusawa (where this photo was taken) and JR Morioka stations, presumably in recognition of these cities' status as the traditional production sites. They produce a peaceful tinkle as they blow in the breeze ― a nice contrast to the modernity and hustle-bustle of the stations.
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The Long and Short (But Mostly Short) of It  

I bit the bullet and went sweater shopping yesterday. Stereotypically, trying on clothes is the subject of much wry humor and/or moaning for American women. Especially summer clothing. So imagine the apprehension inherent in a regular shopping foray, and add to that the element of being a wide-shouldered, giant-ribcaged girl in a country generally populated by women of slight build. The opportunities for humor and moaning are endless.

I found what I was looking for: a sleeveless turtleneck, with matching cardigan. They didn't have black out, so I asked the shopgirl to bring me a medium black one, if they had any. She returned, bearing two black sleeveless turtlenecks: one medium, one large. I was grateful but a bit embarrassed ― clearly, she knew (as did I, honestly) that the medium was a long shot.

She showed me to a fitting room, pulling what looked to be a tissue-paper veil out of a dispenser on the wall. Put this over your face before trying things on, she said. It protects the clothes. I love practical Japan — no icky lipstick stains on the clothes. So awesome.

Tissue veil on, I attempted the medium. It quickly became obvious that I wouldn't even be able to get my head through it, much less anything else. The large was perfect. Feeling optimistic, I pulled on the cardigan, which was cute and cozy and had sleeves that ended about four inches above my wrists. Nothing a bone saw couldn't fix, I suppose. And really, I like cute clothes, but not that much. I can only assume from this that miniskirt shopping isn't in the cards for the next year or so.
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Ishiwarizakura, or the rock-splitting cherry tree, is located in front of the District Court building in downtown Morioka.

It is said that the the 300-year-old tree sprouted from a crevasse in the boulder, and split the rock as it grew. It has been designated a national treasure of Japan.
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Secret Park 

This pretty little park is tucked into the bottom corner of an office building in Morioka. It's below a wall along the sidewalk, so it's easy to miss.

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Sweet Cherries 

The best thing about summer in Japan: Yamagata cherries.

Yamagata Prefecture is famous for its cherries, which are very sweet and beautiful. They can be very expensive ― the posh department store sells large boxes of them, carefully stemmed and arranged into rows, for around 3,000 yen or USD $30. These are not so precious, but man, are they delicious.
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More Manhole Covers of Iwate 

Here are some more manhole covers from Iwate.

First up, Rikuzentakata, a small city on the Pacific coast. I'm not sure what all the designs represent, but the lumpy things around the outside might be sea pineapples (a delicacy of Iwate that most people in Japan wouldn't consider food).

Next up, Esashi. Esashi has a famous district of old warehouses.

Finally, Ezuriko, a village that became part of Kitakami City in 1991.

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Late Spring Flowers 

Beautiful wildflowers and pink azaleas alongside the Hitokabe River in Oshu City.

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Hooked on Comics Works for Me! 

Some time ago, my language partner loaned me a manga (comic) that she had been reading. It was a very useful one because it was bilingual ― it had been translated into English, with the original Japanese text on the sides of each frame. I read the English at the time and enjoyed it a lot, but couldn't even begin to contemplate sorting through the Japanese. All those kanji, and who knew where the words began and ended. . . .

A couple of weeks ago, I thought I'd give reading the Japanese a go one more time before I give it back. It took a while with a lot of cross-referencing, but I read it. To quote a Japanese language reference of Matthew's: "Look Mom, I can read Japanese!" Sure, there's a lot of grammar that I missed (and who needs grammar anyway, really?), but being able to read a manga aimed at teenagers is pretty exciting. I was so excited by my newfound ability to read that I bought the second book in the manga series in Japanese only. I won't be turning into a fangirl anytime soon, but I figure if it makes me push the boundaries of my language learning, then a little manga is a good thing.
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