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I knew I had met my match when Surfer boyfriend revealed he’d travelled to more countries than me.
But for all his intrepid travels around the globe, he had never been to Japan.
Having lived in The Land of the Rising Sun for an accumulation of 8 years, I thought I’d take him to the tiny rural town where I called home for almost three.
I knew he’d be up for an off the beaten track adventure.
Tsuruta (translated to “Field of Cranes”) is located in Aomori prefecture, on the very tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu.
‘Cold’ doesn’t begin to describe the winters. It snows for at least half the year with Siberian winds from Russia causing minus 18 degree snow blizzards.
Fresh out of university, I was assigned to work there as an English teacher and the town’s local interpreter/translator.
It’s remoteness made me cry.
Unlike a typical bustling metropolis like Tokyo or Osaka, Tsuruta had only 2 supermarkets, one post office and one bank.
Most critical of all – there was no McDonald’s. (We’re not in Western civilization anymore, Toto).
But with primary industries of apples and rice, it was a simple village filled with the friendliest of country people who can only be described as “salt of the earth”.
When I returned 10 years later, this time with potential husband in tow, it was like I had never left.
Staying with my host family, Mr Surfer was able to experience typical Japanese life. We rang in the new year together and celebrated with an awesome feast of fresh sushi, scrumptious chicken yakitori and Japanese beer.
Getting involved with daily chores, my host dad and Mr Surfer bonded by shoveling snow together, communicating with lots of universal sign language.
Despite my initial apprehension to live in remote Japan, it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life. I developed a deep understanding of Japanese culture and language. Foremost, I forged life-long friendships, with a few even making it to our wedding.
I guess that’s what happens when opening yourself up to adventure.
How to get there:
There are daily flights from Tokyo’s Haneda airport to Aomori, that take approximately 80 minutes.
For a more picturesque trip though, catch the bullet train from Tokyo station to Shin-Aomori station. On the way, you might even get to catch a glimpse of the famous Mt Fuji. From Shin Aomori station, it’s another hour train to get to Tsuruta.
Funnily, the traditional name for Tsuruta, “Mutsu” aptly translates to “End of the road”.
Sightseeing in Aomori prefecture:
Hirosaki Castle: One of the few historical medieval castles that was spared from the World War 2 bombings. A spectacular sight during cherry blossom season in spring.
Lake Fujimi. Tsuruta’s beautiful lake with Japan’s longest wooden footbridge.
Nebuta. A summer parade involving what can only be described best as Japanese slam dancing accompanied with loud, rhythmic Japanese Taiko drums.
Skiing and snowboarding in Ajigasawa and Hakkoda Mountain ranges
Lake Towada: Breathtaking in autumn, surrounded with leaves of gold and red.
Things to remember when traveling in Japan:
- Japan is in the northern hemisphere, so seasons there are opposite to Australia’s. Hence, peak ski season over there is late January, early February.
- Medical facilities such as hospitals and clinics are easily accessible and most have English speaking professionals. For extra piece of mind, make sure you grab some travel insurance like Southern Cross Travel Insurance. You just never know.
- The Japanese are known for their politeness; there’s a lot of bowing! Introductions usually begin with a bow. It’s only polite to reciprocate.
- If you’re feeling daring, try out one of the onsens (public spring baths), remember to shower up first before dipping into one of the tubs. The rule also applies when staying with a Japanese family – make sure no soap suds are left behind!
- Always remember to take shoes off when entering someone’s home! A pair of slippers will immediately be offered. Graciously accept!
Have you been to Japan? Where’s been your most memorable off the beaten track holiday?