A Trip to Iwate Prefecture Part I: Drifting free


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Originally published in The Sentinel

By Anandeeta Gurung and Timothy Jim
Photographs: Timothy Jim and Leandro Ishioka

Prologue

This April, 30 MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology) scholarship students from a diverse set of 28 different nationalities, arrived at Tohoku University to pursue graduate research in an assortment of fields – specialties ranging from Architecture to Virology! As a part of the scholarship, we have been enrolled in an intensive Japanese language course at the University; the course provided us the chance to not only learn some basic survival skills in Japan but adapt to life in Sendai.
As the end of May drew near, we had an opportunity to take a day trip out to visit the neighboring prefecture: Iwate. We would visit Geibi Gorge, or Geibikei (猊鼻渓), a site of natural beauty along the Satetsu river; and Chūson-ji (中尊寺), a Buddhist Temple and UNESCO World Heritage site.

We hope to take you along on on our little journey below, so buckle up and enjoy the ride!

Departure

At a little past 8 a.m., the group convened in the lobby of Tohoku University International House Sanjo 2 (and yes, this does result in a rather long postal address), where we met with Sato-sensei, our Japanese language course tutor, and Sasaki-san, the international students’ coordinator. Following the tutors on a short walk to the bus, it was as if we were transported back in time; we felt like children being escorted by our teachers as we happily chatted about our day ahead. As always, on passing the middle school around the corner, it was nice to be ‘Ohayou Gozaimasu’-ed by a bunch of school children.
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Looks like we weren’t the only group traveling that day!
The journey from Sendai to Geibikei took around an hour and was a nice opportunity to admire the rolling hills of the countryside between Miyagi and Iwate; in some ways it is much like the countryside of Devon, England – perhaps a little larger though! We were both fascinated by the neat, structured rice fields that raced by our windows. Anandeeta was reminded of her home country; it is amazing that farmers here have the technology to plant the all the rice seedlings in one go with a machine, whereas back at her home country, it would take several farmers to hand-plant them individually.
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Certainly a room with a view!
The ride was a nice chance to enjoy good conversation with our fellow MEXT scholars outside of the classroom and the journey passed quickly. Unfortunately, as can be seen in the photos, it was rather overcast outside, however, the temperature was comfortable thankfully. We had our fingers crossed for the rain to stay at bay!
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Geibi Gorge

After arriving at Geibikei coach stop, we were immediately greeted with a view of Santetsu river winding through the valley; we could see, a little further upstream, that the broad banks of the river quickly shrunk down to a moderately narrow gorge. The group amassed and began the short walk towards the flat-bottomed boats which would take us up through the Geibikei.

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A short ‘sanpo’ up to the boats for the MEXT group.

 

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Ryumon no taki – Dragon Gate Fall.
On the way, we passed Dragon Gate Fall. Every autumn, carp leap up this small waterfall on their travels inland; legend has it, any carp that succeeds in climbing this comparatively gargantuan weir transforms into a dragon – quite aptly named, don’t you think?
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The flat-bottomed boat that would take us up the river.
At the pier, several flat-bottomed boats were docked and waiting; they reminded Tim of the punts you might see in Oxford or Cambridge, albeit a little larger – each was sufficiently spacious to take our group of 32 people! On embarking, we noticed a typical Japanese custom – you had to take off you shoes! Freshly vacated footwear was promptly, and neatly, ordered onto a small shoe rack at the end of the boat.
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Ali posing next to the onboard shoe rack!
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A serene ride up the gorge.
The boat ride along the Santetsu is wonderfully tranquil; the air is softly lit when down at water level, and the atmosphere soothing. While the boatman smoothly drafts you upstream, you hear the bird song fragments blend with the gentle burbling of the running water, and the occasional splash of fish surfacing to take tidbits left by feeders on preceding boats. The cool air lightly brushes any exposed skin, as we watch the rising forests and lush greenery that sprouts from every nook and cranny between the rocks pass on either side. We relaxed as we drifted on the placid river; the sights and sounds were definitely a treat for the eyes and ears, and we found the whole experience invigorating after so many hours in the classroom!
One can easily see why Geibi Gorge is regarded as one of the most picturesque spots in Japan; the Santetsu is entrenched between expansive rock formations, each unique in shape and evocatively named – you pass features such as Cloud Kissing Rock, Wisteria Rock and Mirror Rock to name but a few.
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Photo Courtesy: Leandro Ishioka
The river was clean and clear; in shallow areas, you could see to its bottom, including the enormous fish that meandered by unhurriedly. While some of us were feeding the fish, a few of the photographers in our group, Tim included, were busy taking pictures.
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We had lots to see on this little boat trip!

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A small shrine, where one could exchange coins for wishes – if successfully thrown, of course!

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Jemimah watching the carp in the cool, clear shallows.

To Be Continued…

Please join us again next time for the second half of the journey, where we’ll explore the rest of Geibikei before heading off to the mysterious surroundings of Chūson-ji Temple!

Anandeeta is from Nepal with wanderlust in her genes and has an incredibly ridiculous passion of blogging. She is going to pursue Ph.D. in Life Sciences next semester.

Tim is a Ph.D. candidate in Aerospace Engineering from the UK. He is deeply passionate about things that fly, traveling, tea, and music. He also enjoys a spot of photography in his spare time.

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