The year abroad adventures of a Scottish otaku in the North of Japan

Monthly Archives: October 2013

Yeah, sorry for the cheesy title – if it helps, I now have ‘It’s Chico Time’ stuck in my head….penance I guess.

So as you can probably tell, I’m a little behind in my blogging…..I blame global warming, or possibly the rather large workload I recently been dumped with! However, I have finally managed to find time to get these next few posts up. This one: the AIU festival.

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Now for those of you who have ever read manga, you know that inevitably a school festival will pop up somewhere – this is basically what it is. For those of you who have no idea what manga is, a school festival is like a fair/village fete crossed with a school concert – masses of food, masses of fun and a whole lot of organisation!

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(I’m in the back left corner of this one, honestly…)

As I’ve said  in my earlier posts, I became part of Campus Art and this is what we have been preparing for!

(Look, aren’t we lovely!)

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The theme of the festival was ‘GalaXy: connect the dots’, which followed the idea that, as the universe is ever expanding, growing and changing, so are we. Very inspirational. It also meant we got to draw lots of aliens and spaceships 😀 The festival also celebrated the 10th Anniversary of Akita International University.

We had two days of celebrations that included live bands from the Rock Band club, EAP dances (these are 1st year classes) and a speed eating contest….

I have to say, my favourite bit was all the food stands:

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There was:

– Yakitori (fried chicken)
– Taiyaki (fish shaped batter with red bean paste inside)
– Takoyaki (batter covered octopus)
– Yakisoba (fried noodles)
– Donuts
– Imomochi (fried potato with cheese in it)
– Churros
and so much more….my purse was complaining after a while, my stomach not so much!

The best part of the festival was definitely the night time bit. On the first night we had a huge bonfire, which we all sat around while some of the bands played on stage. The second night (the closing ceremony), we had a display of Kanto (a traditional Akita display, as mentioned in my last post) by our University Kanto team….I felt very involved in this as I got landed on at one point by several members of the team when one of the lantern stands fell over!

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This is my roommate, Chino, who is part of the drumming/fluting section of the Kanto team – only the men are allowed to hold the lanterns, so the women beat out complex rhythm for them.

After this spectacle, we walked back to the main stage (the paths were now lined with lots of tiny candles) to see the closing film – a very emotional production about wishes coming true, working hard and being a bit silly! Just as the video ended, what we think was a special effect (it was too well timed), a shooting star appeared! Even if it was a special effect, it still gave you an adrenaline rush! It was so cool! Then, just as were about to think all our hopes would be dashed, the announcers started a countdown and we got a lovely show of fireworks!! It was the perfect night for it – clear skies, very cold.

Unfortunately, after this we had to start the campus clear up, so Campus Art was taking down decorations until 3am. But do you know what made it worth it? These guys. They are nanaki, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more screaming girls in my life than for these guys….

Well, hopefully soon I should be uploading a little bit about an adventure into the mountains 🙂 Until then, またね!


So, the main event! (thereby losing all credibility on being punctual with my posts….)

We arrived at the Oga festival hall and the outside area had such a festival atmosphere (as we were to find out later). The show itself was an amalgamation of traditional Japanese dances and songs from all over the country (I initially thought it was just Akita, but as it transpired, it wasn’t). The program included:

– Folk songs from Akita

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– Sado-Okesa (a traditional dance from Niigata prefecture)

– A Lion Dance and Eisa (drums) performance from Okinawa

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– Namahage-Daiko (by far my favourite) which was a a drum performance by people dressed as the local demons/deities called Namahage

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Here is (hopefully) a video of the performance:

After the performances, we stepped outside to the sight of all the performers lining the entrance and applauding (shouldn’t it have been the other way around?). We were just getting over being overwhelmed by this fantastic group of performers when the fireworks started going off. Now these weren’t just ordinary fireworks – they were amazingly complex!

Even after this, we were allowed 20 mins at the festival outside where there was a giant (and I mean about the size of a double-decker bus) drum with people sitting on the top.

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On another side, there was a display of Kanto. This is a traditional Akita display where the males balance reeeeeally big bamboo poles with lit lanterns on them. It sounds easy, but these things way at least 9 kilos. The females beat a complex rhythm on a huge drum and play numerous flutes to direct the other males who are chanting.

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Next time: AIU Festival! またね!


For one, I might actually get a blog post out on time! Get to the shelters, the world might just be ending….

This weekend, it was time for our other big ‘school trip’ – to the Oga Peninsula (up in the North of Akita Prefecture). Oga is definitely where the agriculture nature of Akita becomes fishing – we passed numerous docks with little fishing boats and fields where fishing nets were being untangled. Although our final destination was Oga, we actually took several stops through the journey:

1. Tenno Greenland

2. Mount Kanpu

3. Cape Nyudozaki

4. Oga City Concert Hall (for a special traditional performance)

What I liked about this trip, is that the organisers learnt from the last trip (e.g. giving us a 9am leave time on the posters, but on the itinerary 9.30). We also had a lot more driving between destinations, so had to make do with staring at the lovely scenery instead!

So, after an early start (we had to meet at the buses at 8.40), we were on our way with our first stop being Tenno Greenland. This is basically a large park/road stop that includes a stone age village (rebuilt near where it was actually excavated).

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As much as I enjoyed stretching my legs at the park, seeing the tour groups full of old biddies and seeing all the local produce (you have no idea how tempted I was to just go ahead and buy a mini chilli plant), there was something else that caught my attention even more! We saw a huge spider just casually sitting on the biggest spider web I’ve ever seen. I spent about 10 minutes just trying to get a decent photograph….it was definitely worth it, just for the look on my friend’s face when I showed her the picture!

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After not long, it was time to get on the road again and head towards Mount Kanpu. As we drove along the country roads, coastal scenery started to appear and it felt very like home. We had coast, big mountains and grey weather – it was definitely like a homecoming. As we got closer, I could see what I thought would be the hill, with a little viewing station at the top, and I was hoping that we would be taken to the top rather than having to trek up it. I was granted my wish when we started to make our way up the steep roads and saw the emerging coastal scenery (on both sides)! It was super windy at the top of the hill (again, reminiscent of home) and we were faced with a number of model plane fliers AND a man paragliding from the top of the hill to the bottom. I don’t think he expected a bunch of foreigners to crowd round him and then cheer when he got to the bottom.

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A great number of pictures were taken of the spectacular panoramic view of the little fishing villages and the mountains sitting faintly on the other side of the bay. I may have also had a go at rolling down the hill – I certainly acted my shoe size, not my age, but it was ridiculously fun.
We also had a lot of fun in the little omiyage (souvenir) shop, where the women who ran it gave us free snacks and tried to tells us everything in English. All I can say is bless them! It was adorable.

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After that, it was down the other side of the hill and on to Cape Nyudozaki (imagine me pulling a superman pose)! This is the point of the Oga Peninsula and, coincidentally, on the 40th Parallel. At the site, it has several stones lined up on the parallel and a lovely monument, just to let you know.

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We had our lunch at the edge of a cliff, scrambled down it to explore the rock pools and only then discovered there were stairs. It felt like a day at the beach – I had my boots off and was scrambling over the rock pools, I did some paddling (the sea was surprisingly warm) and we even saw what we thought was a sea hawk, just perching on the cliff. It was heaven (if only the weather was a little better).

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The high point, apart from the sea eagle, of course, was almost standing on (and thereby discovering) a praying mantis, just chilling in the grass. I’ve never seen one of these in the wild before, so it was certainly something to see!

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At this point, I shall suspend my story, as I have a lot of videos from the main event in Oga city! So for now, またね!


(or, being a Christian in Japan)

Now, since Japan is mainly a Shinto/Buddhist country I thought this would be rather tricky. I’d looked up churches in Akita and they all seemed to be too far away so it seemed like I wasn’t in luck. However salvation (if you’ll excuse the pun) was at hand!

AIU has a Bible Study Group (run by one of the teachers, Clay Williams) which is not only for well established Christians, but also people (mainly Japanese students) who have never encountered Christianity or the Bible before. The club itself is held either at Clay’s house (in Kawabe, a lovely 50 minute walk or a bus ride) where his wife Bonnie cooks us fabulous meals or in a room at the university. I much prefer it at Clay’s house as we have the added madness of their dog ( who mostly responds to chinese commands and goes nuts when the doorbell rings) and their son Jimmy who is only about a year old but, when paired with dog, is part of an unstoppable duo. Seriously, they can charm the food right out of your hands!

Anyways….Bible Study club. We start off the club (after food) with a bit of worship – basically singing – and then study bits of the bible. I have to say, the order is a bit confusing. We’re starting with the New Testament, but we’re working on the bit before crucifixion…usually done during easter….ach well…

So, it was thanks to Bible Study group that I have not only found a church, but also coined a lift there. The ‘Tsuchizaki Gloria Chapel’ resides just outside the centre of Akita city (unsurprisingly in Tsuchizaki) and is mostly made up of a Jpanese congregation of all ages. Everyone is very friendly, if speaking little to no english, and I have been made very welcome.

The service itself starts with worship (the songs kindly with furigana so we can read them), then a bible reading and then the sermon (translated by the fabulous Hinako, who interprets every service for us). This is where it stops being like a normal church and the Japanese creativity sets in. The church has a Gospel choir, a youth group, a hip hop group and, wait for it, a gospel hula group.

After church they do lunch upstairs (only ¥100 so not a bad deal). It’s usually easy to bulk meals like bolognaise or noodles, but they’re always delicious!

Overall the church is a little more ‘happy-clappy’ than I’m used to but I think I’m going to enjoy it and certainly meet more people there! I just hope they don’t make me sing at the front again….

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Well, until next time folks! またね!



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