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Welcome to my home for six years, Kitakami! While many foreigners in Japan would prefer to live in a larger city like Tokyo or a beautiful city like Kyoto, I was generally happy here. I don't like the noise, congestion, and pollution of big cities, and I enjoy hiking, skiing and walking, so this city was perfect for that! Now that I live in Tokyo, I don't miss the dearth of young people or rural lifestyle and mindset, the downsides to life in Iwate. However, I really DO miss all the nature and quiet of Kitakami.

Kitakami is located in northeastern Japan, in Iwate Prefecture. Yeah, way up there!
(Thanks to a Kitakami tourism website for this pic!)
Here is an aerial photograph map of Kitakami city. I've put post-it notes on the areas of interest, such as my apartment (bottom one), my work, and my favourite shops!

So, how big is Kitakami? Well, not so large. As of a 2000 census, the population of the city was 91,000. The main industries in and around Kitakami are semiconductor plants or factories. So, a lot of my students are engineers or at least many of them work in the same large companies with plants here: Toshiba, Fujitsu, Meiji, and so on. What is there to do in Kitakami? Well... not a hell of a lot. You hang out at the mall(s) if you're young, or you go drinking if you're of age. What do non-industry people do for jobs? I'm not sure... there are an awful lot of drinking bars and hostess bars here... I've met quite a few young hostesses. Also, there are many hair salons here... maybe that's what they do.

But pretty much, young people don't like this city. It's too small and rural for them. When they graduate from high school, they either move away to a large city like Morioka or Sendai, or they get pregnant/married really quickly and stay in the city. Honestly, I am amazed by the fecundity of the girls here. Usually when I see a hot, amazing looking-girl my age, she's pushing a baby stroller or two. And many of the ladies that are single here want to find a nice man and get married soon. Yikes!

Winters are long and quite cold. But they can be beautiful, as you can see. These are the steps leading up to a small park.
Here is the road that leads to my apartment. I call it "The Drinking Road." Apparently, that's also its Japanese nickname.

Oh, yeah, I mentioned going drinking. That seems to be everybody's hobby here, not to mention in Japan. Usually, the fun thing to do to celebrate a birthday or new job, or transfer, or no reason at all is to go drinking at an "Izakaya", a bar that serves food. Then we go and have more drinks at another bar or go and sing karaoke. That's pretty fun, but it's often hard on my lungs, as a majority of the people in Japan smoke, and I'm allergic to it. Anyway, speaking of drinking, Kitakami once had the distinction (before it merged with a neighbouring village 12 years ago) of being the city with the greatest number of drinking bars per capita in Japan. And I can believe it!

Here is the peak of a mountain near Kitakami. The trail from the parking area to its summit is a steep 3km!
This is pretty much what most of northern Japan looks like outside of the cities -- highways, electric lines, and rice fields. This photo was taken during my last big walking trip in the fall of 2003. I walked 15km from Kitakami to Hanamaki!

For leisure, I usually take a nice long walk. (Well, I play lots of videogames, of course, but besides that.) Kitakami is a nice and small city, so if it's a sunny day and I need to go and buy something or just stretch my legs, I make a walking trip of it. My favourite spots are Tenshochi Park, which is on the riverside and is lined with cherry trees; and Kunimiyama, which has a breathtaking lookout point on top of the mountain (which is also a steep climb!) During summer, I often take my laptop computer or GameBoy for some tunes, a drink, and some reading material, and sit on the riverbank and relax. It's a nice feeling.

GETO has some good skiing. Just forget about the name, and you'll have a good time! (That's me in the picture, BTW.)
How's this for a jumper's-eye-view of the course?

And in winter, I like to go skiing. Iwate isn't called "the Tibet of Japan" for nothing. It has some pretty good ski resorts close by, and it's damn cold in winter, so skiing is appropriate. I'm a Canadian, but that doesn't mean that skiing is in my blood. When I came to Japan, I actually hadn't gone skiing in 13 years, since I was 12 years old. I quit skiing because it got too expensive renting skis every time I wanted to go. But in Kitakami, the mountains beckoned, so I bought a cheap pair of skis, boots, and some clothing, and off I went! It wasn't that hard to re-learn how to ski, actually. On my second time skiing at GETO, I finally managed to ski down a whole slope without falling once.

This is quite a landmark in our little city. A large ferris wheel that rotates very slowly...

Here's "American Wave", with Baskin Robbins, Sanrio gifts, and a CD & Video store. On the walls on the inside of this building are movie posters and pictures of such famous Americans as James Dean, Charlie Chaplin, Robert deNiro, the Beatles, Ewan McGregor, the Sex Pistols...

Another interesting place here is American World, which you can see above. It's a shopping area with an "American Books" store, "American Wave" gift shop, and "American Paradise" media store. It's interesting to see what things they consider American. ^_^

This is the interior of Mos Burger. Forget about the name and you'll enjoy a great hamburger done the Japanese way! Their onion rings are not western-style; they're fried in tempura batter!
p.s. They play only Beatles music in here, from dawn to dusk!

Go to one of the aforementioned hundreds of drinking bars and this is how you'll be seeing things in a couple of hours!

For food, I usually have a convenience store sandwich or rice dish at work. I used to make a sandwich and have a cup of instant ramen every day, but I've lost the taste for that. Fortunately, there are a few McDonald's restaurants around town, so I can pick that up if I crave it. Mos Burger is also very good, if a little expensive. There's also an import shop in this city so I can buy cheap cereal, snacks, and taco fixings. So, on weekends, I cook hamburgers, chili, or tacos. Yum!

This is the side wall of the large shopping mall in Kitakami -- Sakurano. Evidently, nobody in Japan knows how to write Christmas, so they all do "X'mas".
A new addition to the game centre at Sakurano. I'll probably be playing this one quite a bit!

So, I'm pretty happy where I am living. (Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that I didn't choose to come here; my company chose it for me. I originally asked for a small town in central Japan, but my company made the final decision on where to place me...) It is inconvenient sometimes if I want to go shopping in a large city, or see more touristy areas, but Kitakami is a comfortable place for me to live. I don't think I'd be happy living in a large city.

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