Jason in Japan

A Snowy Weekend In Shonai

December 10-11, 2005

Snow In Shonai
Snow In Shonai
Every Saturday, I teach classes in Tsuruoka and Sakata, the main two cities in the Shonai area, in the northwest corner of Yamagata prefecture. It's about a two hour drive from Yamagata City; the main highway passes through Gassan mountain, with many tunnels along the way. Tsuruoka is a bit inland, and Sakata is on the coast of the Japan Sea.

There's been a lot of snow everywhere lately, and this day was no exception. Plenty of snow was falling in Yamagata City when I woke up, and it was snowy all the way to Tsuruoka. It continued like that all day, and when we (Yuko and I) went to drive back to Yamagata City, the visibility on the road was so poor that we had to turn back.

We headed back to Sakata, and went to Hiro's Bar. Yuko and Hiro-san go way back; she rents an apartment from him, upstairs above the bar, which is where we stayed for the night. The apartment was a very cool, traditional Japanese style dwelling. A small kerosine heater kept my room warm, even though the rest of the apartment was quite cold. I've always liked the contrast of being in a warm haven within a cold environment; it must be from my roots of growing up in Calgary. In any case, it was quite nice staying overnight there.

Takashi & Tomoko
Takashi & Tomoko
We spent the evening at the bar downstairs, where I met Hiro-san, as well as his friends Takashi and Tomoko. Takashi speaks English fairly well, though I also took advantage of the opportunity to practise my Japanese. As is often the case, they were simultaneously impressed with my knowledge of written Japanese, and amused by the many humorous mistakes I make when speaking. Takashi generously offered to show me around anytime I'm in the Shonai area. I asked if he and Tomoko had plans for the next day; they didn't, so we met up around noon to do a little sightseeing.

After warming up with some excellent udon noodle soup and coffee, we went to the Ken Domon Museum of Photography -- a most impressive gallery of the famous Sakata-born photographer. His works are amazing. The photos of landscapes, architecture and objects have such perfect focus and color that you could swear you were looking at the real thing, if you didn't see the frame around it. I was equally impressed by his candid shots of children playing -- moments of real life, faithfully captured, without even the slightest hint of the self-consciousness that taints such moments when people realize they're being photographed. I wish I could share some of his works here, but obviously, photography isn't allowed in the gallery.

Next stop: Zenpoji, a temple near Tsuruoka. The first thing you see on the way in is a tall and very beautiful gojuunotou (5-storied pagoda). The temple is made up of about 20 buildings. Takashi and Tomoko spend every New Year's day here. I feel like I should write more about it, but the feelings I have about places like that can hardly be put into words. So instead, I'll leave you with Takashi's favorite yojijukugo (four character proverb). Every moment in life happens only once, so we should always make the most of each one.

Ichi Go Ichi E
Ichi go ichi e
One time, one encounter
Japanese Proverb