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

Monthly Archives: November 2013

So after all the fantastic weather last week (i.e. the snow), this week was mostly torrential rain and ridiculously violent thunderstorms. The worst of those was around 5/6am on Thursday morning – I swear it waited until it was the day I had an exam. Said thunder decided to be so loud that it shook not just my cabin bed, but the entire room! It was freaky and cool at the same time!

On Tuesday evening, we also had a bit of an issue with the thunderstorms…..it was about 7.15 in the evening, normal night, when suddenly the lights went off. I was glad at this point I had my torch next to my desk. Not long after they flickered back on again, but within a minute they were off. It wasn’t only our room. It wasn’t even just the campus (even the street lights were off). It was the whole of Akita city as well. We heard a number of announcements about the power outtage (i.e. that they had no idea what had happened and that if we were cold we should go to Komachi hall or the Cafeteria). The most amusing part of this was the fact that, because of the power cut (teiden), none of the toilets would flush. Oh Japan…..

After a while of attempting to do homework by torchlight, I decided (prompted by Callum) to go to Komachi to what was happening. It was fantastic! I thought we were going to be rubbish without the internet (we are of that generation) – even our phone service was out. However people were sitting around tables in candlelight, the foreigners brought beer, someone brought a guitar and started a live session. I went back to my flat and got my Uno cards and played Uno with some friends and their room mates by candlelight!

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Eventually some of the staff came in to let us know that basically a lightning strike had hit the power station and set it on fire. We were dancing a little at the fact that if the power didn’t come back on soon, we wouldn’t have classes the next day. However a little under 2 hours later, the lights came back on and everyone returned to being a normal technology-obsessed student. I did have to laugh at a line of people in the cafeteria who were still working on their laptops during the power cut.

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On a lighter note, I had a couple of big events this week! I did an open mike on Thursday night – my first 3 songs were a bit rubbish (because of nerves), however my last song (a great reminiscence of home) got the crowd going. I was surprised by how many people knew the words! If you haven’t guessed already, it was 500 miles (by the Proclaimers). Here’s the tail end:

Finally, today I had a speech contest! It didn’t go amazingly well (I never expected it to) but it was a lovely experience! I met lots of new people, I had to work in a team at one point with several lovely old Japanese people – we had to guess which country a picture full of food came from.

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Afterwards, when walking back to the bus stop, we saw the lovely Christmas lights along the main road in Akita! It reminded me that it’s only a month until Christmas!! So, on that happy not, til then またね!

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Oh, and this is Elena and I eating ice cream…in the middle of November 🙂

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Ok, so just a quick update, but the day all the UCLan students had been dreading arrived today. It was not only heralded by several thunderstorms and torrential rain, but also a flight delay. An omen? Of course not…..

Nah, I’m joking. Today we were visited by our lovely Japanese teacher from UCLan – Amano-sensei – who was class in the most fluorescent pink suit I have ever it. Although it did suit her….

The reason we were all bricking it was because she would be sitting in all our classes and then having a 20 minute interview (in Japanese). Luckily her flight was delayed so all we had was the 15minute interview this evening.

The horrendous thing? The minute I stepped into that room all the Japanese grammar I have ever learnt decided to go on holiday. Literally, I was stumbling out first year stuff and she was saying ‘I understand but could you say it again because the grammar was confusing’. This was a trait that all 5 of us seemed to carry….

Saying that, she spoke to us a little in English at the end – she even asked if I had lost weight which, judging by the amount of local food I’ve been sampling, is a resounding ‘no’! She also gave us each a hug at the end and a cheery smile. As much as I was worried because of the daunting task of using keigo (honorific language) with here, it was a nice visit, albeit a short one. Seeing Amano-sensei here was a nice little touch of the familiar in a place that is frankly very far away from home!

Well, for now folks, またね!


  I’m sorry to inform you that winter is no longer coming…..it’s here!!!! The first snow (hatsuyuki) has fallen….and gone again. Literally within the last few days it has rained torrentially, snowed, snowed again, melted (in a rainstorm) and it was both eerily misty and autumn-like sunshine today….you explain that one!

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Apart from the snow, I’m sad to say that not many interesting things have been happening lately. Our attempts to celebrate bonfire night ended up being 5 Brits and 1 American sitting in a bar, playing blackjack and drinking hot sake. We also had a Hello Kitty burning on a fake bonfire:

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Not bad for being made at a bus stop!

We also had a bit of a cultural experience at the shopping centre nearby. They were celebrating their 10th anniversary and so had a wonderful Namahage performance by a group from Oga (where we went for the other Namahage performance).

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All the parents and kids gathered around to see it and we had to laugh when several were dragged away in tears because of the scary Namahage. They are an interesting local deity, part-demon, part-god who are supposed to be good luck. These Namahage actually went around the crowd and shook many hands…

I think I’ll leave you guys with a lovely image that I was faced with this week – a good omen? I’ll let you decide, またね!

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As easy as it might be to believe that, especially as a student, I have just been living off instant ramen (noodles), I can fight against that! In my tiny kitchen, with its one rubbish IH hot plate and my tiny fridge with a freezer the size of a small lunchbox, I have actually managed to cook proper food in the last few months.

Sometimes I’ve been cooking food that I know: pasta, bolognaise, teriyaki (yeah, I know it’s Japanese but I’ve been making it from scratch at home for a while), carbonara.

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Other times I have made new things: Hokkaido Shichu (a kind of creamy stew), Japanese curry, etc.

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Spot the plaster – this is what happens when you try to chop up pumpkin with a sharp knife….

I have also managed to prove that you don’t need fancy tools to make food. I managed to make a couple of batches of English muffins (cooking them in a frying pan) – this was inspired by watching The Great British Bake Off. I also managed to make a passable soup (pumpkin and sweet potato) using a sieve to puree it. Ok, so the last one didn’t taste as food as I’d hoped, but it was ok.

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Sorry, this post is a bit of an interlude. Nothing very interesting has happened lately. Although I will hopefully come up with something knew for next week – maybe the fact that the small British colony here will be celebrating Bonfire Night tonight with a total of 8 sparklers, aren’t we awesome? If we can find some decent fireworks, we’ll have a proper bonfire, but these are yet to be found 😦 Well until next time, またね!


After making all the effort to essentially lug my hiking boots all the way to Japan, I figured I’d better make use of them. So when someone suggested a hiking trip, I jumped at the idea! I think 11 people (and 4 maybes) were all set to leave early on the Sunday morning, in order to reach Yuzawa City. How many turned up at the bus stop? 3 people (including myself). A very depressing turnout.

We weren’t downhearted, though. Instead we pressed on and took the 2 hour train ride down to Yuzawa City, in the South of Akita Prefecture.

We were heading, after a little trouble with buses, to Akita Yuzawa Geopark – an area, much like a national park, with many areas of geographical interest (and some rather good volcanic spots as well).

I think we had to wait another hour and half for the bus to the place we were going, so we decided to explore Yuzawa in the rain – easily much better than it sounds. We passed a number of election cars with loudspeakers (they all decided to wave to us as they went past, which was hilarious), walked through a beautiful housing district and found ourselves suddenly in Germany.

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We even saw our first snow covered mountain – winter is coming!

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For my Scottish friends, you might be with me on this, but at one point Yuzawa looked a lot like Aviemore….what do you think?

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Aaaaanyways, when it finally came to be time for the bus, the three of us (Ingrid, Nour and myself) settled down for the hour long journey that wouldn’t even take us all the way. In the end, the bus dropped us in a place called Minase – a whole 11km from our final destination. It also happened to be absolutely tipping it down (or as Ingrid would say: raining troll women). At this point, we thought we would be trekking the whole way to this place we were aiming for, when suddenly our luck changed dramatically – a woman in a minivan (with the local rice-making company logo on the side) pulled up and asked us if we wanted a lift. When we looked back on the situation we realised that she had circled back round to see if she could help us. God bless her, she had the thickest Akita-ben (dialect) accent I’ve ever heard, but she asked where we were going and if we wanted a lift.  Now, at this point I will say:

There were 3 of us foreigners, not hard to miss, getting into a strangers van….kids please don’t try this at home. We assessed the situation (i.e. the woman’s age, appearance and the inside of the van) and deemed it safe. It was safe, but don’t go doing this randomly, ok guys?

Getting back to the story, this woman chatted away for the 10 minutes the journey took. It turns out she had been heading to a local farm to pick vegetables for her dinner when she picked us up. She was telling us about all the beautiful spots in Akita to see the Autumn colours and we asked her a little about the area and the local rarity – the Akita deer (I’ll talk more about those later). Eventually we reached the place we were aiming for – the gorge at Oyasu. We thanked the woman profusely and as politely as we could and then set off on the next part of our adventure.

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As soon as we had arrived we could smell the sulphur in the air – that not quite rotten eggs smell that hangs humidly in the air. The gorge that we were visiting (if you hadn’t guessed it already) was volcanic – it had gas emissions and the water in the river was bright blue!

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You could actually walk down into the gorge to see the emissions (although it did mean you had to walk back up all those steps), or you could walk over one of the iconic red bridges (seriously, they’re everywhere in Japan).

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So after climbing down into the gorge and back out of it again, Ingrid decided it would be a great idea to climb to the top of the ski slope. At the time we didn’t think this was such a great idea – at several points of the journey, the slope was at a 45 degree incline! It also happened to still be raining and when you get part of the way up a tall hill it begins to be quite windy as well! However, about half way up, our moods were brightened slightly. If you remember the lovely lady from earlier in the story, who when we asked if we could see any of the Akita deer replied no. Well how wrong was she?

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We saw two as we crested the hill (although I thought they were stuffed at first…), but they ran away pretty quickly. They look as though they are a cross between mountain goat and deer, which is the commonly held belief, but if you ask any Akita person they will staunchly deny this. Just don’t say it!

We finally, after lots of pauses to catch our breath and moaning about how steep it was, reached the top of the hill.

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Aren’t we awesome? We were hiding under the ski lift because it was still raining – and we hadn’t even started the trek down. It was full of wet leaves on the slopes, even heavier rain and even muddier slopes! Yet what was that we could see at the bottom of the slope, nestled in the corner of the car park? A foot onsen, yes you read right, a foot onsen.

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It was heaven on tired feet!

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After this it was just the 30min wait for the bus to take us back to Yuzawa city – we were cold, soggy and tired, but were dancing and cheering when those bus headlights came around the corner! We were also dancing just a little when we found out the return train had heating vents under the seats 😀 😀 😀

Now, I promise to update later this week but until then: またね!



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