Snowshoeing Adventure

Back in December Ryan and I had the pleasure of joining a snowshoeing tour in Tsuta Bird Sanctuary in Towada National Park.  Our guide was Simon, who is well known around the base community and an asset to all things "out the gate".  He is also an expert on outdoor activities and knows the local areas well.  I couldn't leave Japan without joining one of his tours and this was our last winter here so it was definitely now or never.

I wouldn't say snowshoeing was easier than expected, but it was definitely different from what I expected.  And it was a lot more fun!  Honestly, combining two of my least favorite things- hiking and snow (in all fairness as an adult I discovered I do like hiking, and I even did a serious hike, but for those that knew me as a kid, I tried everything I could to never have to hike and I still frequently say I hate it...but I don't!), seemed like the worst idea ever.  The good news is that, as I mentioned a moment ago, I actually enjoy hiking now, and on this particular day, the weather was amazing!  I see now that this was a sign of winter to come.  This winter has been very, very, very mild compared to what we are used to here.

Below are pictures that words can hardly describe, so I won't even try.  The scenery was not just beautiful, but it was "real".  The snow had recently fallen so the path was non-existent.  Our leader used a hiking GPS device to follow a set path and then we followed in his tracks.  We were the only ones out on the trail.  Us and nature.  That is why I felt like it was real.  It was quiet.  It was peaceful. It was perfect.

One of our first stops was at this lake.  We took a few moments to get some pictures and just enjoy the scenery.

If I remember correctly there were 7 water areas to stop at along the way.  This is another one of those.

Here I am enjoying the sun and snow as I trekked through the woods in northern Japan.
Never thought I would see myself smiling as I wandered through the woods in the snow!
And here I am on the go again.
At lunch time we stopped by another lake and sat down to eat in a little covered area nearby overlooking the water.  Of course Ryan and I took a picture before sitting down to refuel.

Here I am after lunch...still smiling!
At the last lake of the hike we spotted swans.  They are hard to see in this picture but they are out there in the middle.  Wondering what birds consider this "south" for the winter?  These are Siberian swans!
Luckily someone zoomed in enough to be able to see them up close.  Very cool!
At the very end of the trail we came across this little cabin. 
We also found the sign with the map.  It's a loop.  We just happened to start going in the opposite direction so this sign ended up at the end for us.
After the hike we all headed back to the base, but first we stopped by this stream to get some fresh spring water.
Here I am filling up my water bottle with some amazingly refreshing water.
Yum!  And still smiling.  Although maybe I was smiling because the next stop was a country bakery!
The perfect end to the perfect snowshoe hike.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been snowshoeing?  Do you do any winter sports?  Have you ever drank water straight from a spring?

Akita, Japan (Part 2): Around the City

The next day we headed out to check out downtown Akita Center.  Since it was raining we stuck to indoor museums.  First up was the Kanto Festival Center.  We didn't have the chance to visit Akita during their famous Kanto Festival so we thought this was the next best thing.  This museum was so awesome!

Here is a display from inside the museum.
And here is another display, which depicts the lantern festival that is famous in this town.  The size/weight of the lantern (which hold lit candles by the way) depends on the age of the male.  The younger they are the smaller the pole with the lanterns.
The best part of this museum was that we got to actually try it out, minus the lit candles of course!  This part was so much fun and I really appreciate that the staff was so accommodating and really wanted us to have this experience, even if it meant tracking down an employee that spoke some English just to help us out.  It was fun and definitely a memorable experience.  And no, this is not easy!  And yes, this was heavy so I was surprised to know this would be the size for a child (maybe teen).
After the festival museum we headed down the street to Akarenga, which is an old brink building that doesn't look Japanese at all, and used to house the Akita Bank.  You can see inside how it would have looked as a bank.  Many things inside are still the original.

This is the original fireplace.
After the museums we decided to find lunch.  The night before we passed by this restaurant called Pamplemousse, which looked really cute when we walked by.  We didn't know what they served so we were pleasantly surprised when we walked in and found very quirky decor AND an English menu.
Talk about quirky, in a very good way...the bell to signal to the server that you were ready to order was a bike bell.
Ryan and I both ordered a drink because, well, they all sounded so wonderful that we couldn't imagine passing on these.  Mine was amazing banana milk!
I don't need all of this to feel like I had a healthy and delicious meal but I can certainly appreciate the care that goes into running a restaurant like this and the food they are striving to provide to their guests.
Here is the menu.  How cute?!?!  And there you can see the banana milk that I ordered.
I absolutely love this menu and I love that it was also in English so I could fully appreciate it.
After seeing this menu I definitely knew I wanted to come back with my sister and so we are planning a trip there the next time she comes to visit me.
And of course I love this idea!  This place was so cute and I am so glad we decided to eat there.
Now for the food...

I could't resist the cheese plate.  It was yummy!
Ryan had a crazy version of a croque monsieur or something similar.
And yes, I totally did this!  I could not resist and I didn't see any reason to skip out on trying this.  It was definitely worth it!  Of course I couldn't finish it all, but it was certainly fun trying!
We also went to an art museum but I don't have pictures of that because they didn't allow pictures to be taken inside.

The next day before we left we headed to Kubota Castle and the park where this is located in Akita.  It was a short walk from the hotel.  It was raining the day before so we avoided outdoor activities.  Thankfully it was nicer that next day so we could check out the castle.
The park itself is pretty large and there is a lot of space to walk around.
The park had plenty of beautiful scenery and the weather was pretty good so it was nice to walk around, especially before we would be sitting in the car for a 4-5 hour drive.

I love this picture of one of the gates into the castle area.

As expected there was a shrine by the castle.

Lots of paper cranes!  It's hard to tell but these are all origami paper cranes that are linked together.
Then we finally made it over to the castle tower.  I am definitely glad we were able to see this castle before heading home.

We climbed all the way to the top so we could check out the awesome views.  Way out in the distance from one of the sides we were able to see out to the water (on the west coast, looking towards Korea).

One last picture of the park.  Really peaceful and serene.  Not a lot of people were out.  It was late November but the weather was actually warmer than I would have expected, which was nice.
That's all for our Thanksgiving mini-vacation.  Akita was definitely a good choice and I am so glad we went.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to a lantern festival?  How are your balancing skills?  What is your favorite kind of pancake?