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

Tag Archives: Akita International University

I’ve been in a thoughtful mood over the weekend, mainly prompted by my impending return to the UK and also by the watching of RENT…
The question posed in this is song is – ‘How do you measure a year?’ so I guess mine would be ‘How can I measure my year abroad?’
In days? So far: 310
In ramen eaten? So far: quite a lot….
In thunderstorms? 14
In the number of times I’ve been stared at on public transport? 7,000,000
In the number of new meals I’ve learned how to cook? 8
In Kanji learnt? several hundred In Kanji not learnt? several thousand
In times I’ve been thankful for my friends being here too? oh, so many
In the letters I’ve recieved from my Grandparents? about 24
In care packages from home? 6

I guess it all comes down to perspective, but what I do know is – by the time this is over, I will be able to count it in memories.


Helloooo! It’s been too long…

It’s certainly been an interesting few weeks!

At the beginning of the month, as part of my Intercultural Class, I got to visit a Primary School in Akita city. We had lunch with one of the classes, then split up to play ‘English games’, tell them about our country’s own Primary Schools (in Japanese) and play with them at lunch time. I had a fab time meeting some of the cute Year 1s, teaching them some really simple English and surprising them with my Japanese!

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ushijima primary school

The unexpected part of the trip was, that on our way into the city (while going through a nearby town) we drove past a bear on the side of the road. It was only about the size of a Saint Bernard Dog, but it was still pretty cool. It was also my first time of seeing a bear like this in the wild!

The weekend after this, I had the opportunity to go to see a Kabuki play (something I have been wanting to do while I’m in Japan). Kabuki is a traditional Japanese play form where the actors (all male) wear elaborate make up and costumes. The plays are often traditional stories and can last for hours because of lengthy set changes. Feminine looking males are prized by the trade because they can play the female characters well. Obviously we weren’t allowed to take photos during the play, this is the poster.

There were 3 plays in total, the first one being two beautiful dances by a wife and a concubine. This one was my favourite, because they were so elegant and feminine (despite both actors being male).

The second play was just a line of people introducing themselves in very lengthy keigo speeches. They were really hard to follow…the only good bit about that one was that one person just lost in and started laughing. It caused a domino effect of the giggles – all the actors had bowed heads, so all you saw was the shoulders going up and down, and then an apologetic bow! The audience loved it.

The final play was the story of a village idiot who wanted to be a sumo wrestler. He was helped out by a prostitute who was drunk, and thought he was funny. 10 years later, he has become a mob boss, and so repays the prostitute and her family(who doesn’t remember who he is until the very end). It ends in typical Japanese style, with the main character regretting that he could not become a sumo wrestler like a promised. It was this play which I understood the most. We were given summaries in English, but the rest of the play was guess work!

During the scene changes, a beautiful curtain was pulled across the stage:

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Lastly, this weekend we revisited the lovely peninsula Oga – where we had a trip to in October. The, rather early, morning took us first to Oga Aquarium where we could see seals, penguins and a polar bear. The funniest part of it happened while I was standing next to an octopus tank – a Japanese couple looked at it and though it looked, and I quote, ‘tasty’…

I also got to see a cute seal, just chilling in his pool, and looking remarkably like me when I go swimming!

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(casual seal selfie)

After this, we went to Cape Nyudozaki (which lies on the 40th Parallel) to have our lunch. I may have done a bit of rock climbing, taken more time than I should, and then run back up the cliff barefoot so that I didn’t miss the bus! Scraped up my legs a bit, but it was pretty good fun!

Next was the return to the Namahage museum (where we went to see the Namahage Sedo Matsuri) to watch a short Namahage performance – it was fun seeing my friends, who didn’t know about Namahage, get scared when they jumped out!

The museum itself takes all of about 5 minutes to walk through, so the hour a half we had there, was mostly spent eating ice-cream out in the sun!

Finally, we headed up the Mount Kanpu (another revisit). This time, the weather was a lot less windy and a lot more sunny! There were loads of paragliders jumping off the top of the mountain, and beautiful scenery everywhere!

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That’s me pretty much up to date for now. It’s slowly becoming more obvious that my year abroad is coming towards its conclusion. Last week I had my ‘End of Semester Orientation’ meeting, letting us know what we have to do before we leave. All quite sad, really!

Well, until next time またね!


About a week after I got back from Tokyo, it was time for the new arrivals. April is the beginning of term in Japan (much like September is in the UK), so we had a large arrival of new first years who were moving in. There were around 180 new first years (shows how small the University is), and around 80 new International students (including 3 from my university, who had been in Korea for their first term).

I volunteered to be one of the peer supporters, we got some snazzy green t-shirts and were assigned to welcoming new students, carrying luggage, etc.

 

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Don’t we look awesome?

The campus has slowly been filling back up, again, and I have been getting back into the routine of school life – especially hard after a month-long holiday. I’m getting used to seeing new faces everywhere, I have a new roommate, I even have new classes. Even the weather has been nice for a change – 14 degrees, clear blue skies. I don’t expect it to last long, but hopefully it will coax the cherry blossoms into bloom.

I think my next post will concern the cherry blossom trip at the end of the month – hopefully I will have some nice photos to show you! Until then, またね!


Well I know I shouldn’t be complaining (what with half the UK underwater at the moment), but I’m bored of snow. We’ve had it here for 3 months now, there was a wonderful moment when it almost went away a few weeks ago but it’s STILL HERE! I love snow, but this is just ridiculous…Tokyo had snow the other day, for the first time in years, and it just ground to a halt – very reminiscent of the UK. It also happens to be cold, very cold. However, I can’t complain too much – it’s National Foundation Day here in Japan, so I get a loverly day off (^^)

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Now, the main point of this entry, apart from bemoaning the cold, was to talk about the festival (I know, another one) that I went to at the weekend. This one was called the ‘Namahage Sedo Matsuri’ (yes, our old friends the Namahage) and was to take place up in Oga – in the North of the prefecture where we went to see the original Namahage performance.

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The idea of the festival is that the Namahage come down from the mountain (flaming torches in hand), do some dancing/drumming, grant some wishes, scare some kids and then go back up into the mountain.

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All the while, it was snowing (annoying for taking pictures and general warm-ness) and we hung around a huge fire (nice and toasty). So it was a combination of hair freezing and ashes, but definitely fun!

The bit I wanted to see the most was the Namahage dance, I only got a side view but it was still pretty cool. We had to kneel down in the snow (since we were in the first few rows), so we had cold knees by then end of it, but I felt most sorry for the Namahage. They only had straw shoes on (no socks)!

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Since the festival took place right next to the Namahage museum, we got to see a number of different costumes that came from different areas and eras:

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I think this video of the procession covers the mood of the festival best!

While I thaw out, you can enjoy this 🙂 next weekend I’m heading off to the Yokote Kamakura Festival – what’s that, you ask? Well, it’s lots of these:

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So until then, またね!


So my experience literally was fire and ice, both in the same week!

First off, we had a trip to see the Hi-buri Kamakura Festival (this is literally the Kamakura fire-swinging festival) and yes, we were definitely allowed to participate. Imagine, me + fire…..a fantastic combination! It was happening only about a half an hour from the university and as soon as we got there, you could smell that wonderful bonfire smell (which permeated EVERYTHING I was wearing).P1070807

The festival itself is to bring good luck for the new year, so it started with a Shinto priest saying some blessings over an alter filled with offerings. It seemed very sombre (and bloody freezing) and was only offset slightly by the fact that, under that traditional costume, the priest was wearing welly boots!

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As soon as he was done praying, they moved the altar away and set fire to the pyre behind it – it was spectacular! People threw all their old fortunes and new year things onto the fire (to send away the bad luck) and then bales of straw, attached to a rope, were lit from it. You took the straw and swung it around your head for good luck. It’s a lot harder than it looks (I totally didn’t almost set my arm on fire!).

 

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When we were done, we all had a nice cup of local sake to keep us warm (and get a little merry). Then it was back home to stick everything into the wash….seriously, it stunk of bonfire smoke!

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The following weekend, while fighting a cold, I had another outing – this time to go ice-skating with some high-schoolers from Akita city. We were supposed to be practicing English with them, but as I seem to be finding, none of them seem very inclined to talk much – we got some conversation done, but it was minimalistic. The more fun part was the ice-skating bit. The prefectural ice rink is HUGE – literally a rugby stadium size of huge!

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We all got our boots when we got there – I had to change mine several times to get the right size and even then it was tricky. The boots are not rigid like the ones I’ve worn before…so it was hard on the ankles. However once I was on the ice it all came back to me! We were there for two and a half hours and I didn’t fall over at all! I even managed to pick up some speed!

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(I’m holding up the girl behind me at this point!)

Tired and with sore feet, we made our way back to AIU where, an impromptu snow battle began – nobody was spared. Even Dr Ashmore (who happened to be at the bus stop) joined in! I ended up in a dog-pile face down in snow at one point! It was brilliant fun!P1070881

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(by the way, us lot on the back row are standing on about a foot of snow)

Oh…and this happened:

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So until next time: またね!


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All you can eat okonomiyaki, that’s how you celebrate Christmas (that and getting a wee bit merry!)


It’s finally over! I have survived Hell week (parts 1 and 2) and have now finished my first term at Akita International University! Although it’s been a hellish last few weeks, the last classes have also been good’uns.

There was Japanese class:

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Manga mania (and no, I’m not one of them – before you ask):

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Bible Study Christmas Party:

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This is the wonderful food that Bonnie cooked for us:

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(And my Mince Pies)

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And then? Then THIS happened….

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It started off slowly, just a couple of centimetres….and then it just didn’t stop. I woke up to a thunderstorm last Friday and opened my curtains to the sight of this:

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It was at this point, I could justify packing my gaiters 🙂 (until they cleared all the paths and I looked a little foolish). Surprisingly, nobody panicked. There were a few wonderstruck people who’d never seen so much snow before, there were a lot of Japanese women who still decided it would be a good idea to wear heels (seriously?), but there was no one freaking out about how it might stop trains or flights….if there was even half this amount in the UK (well….England), there would be mass hysteria! It was a welcome break….and this is only the beginning! After about a week, it’s starting to melt away, but it’ll be back.

What has annoyed me a little is that, while they’ve been very efficient in clearing the roads, none of the adjoining paths have been cleared….This lead to a little adventure on Monday that possibly wasn’t the best of ideas…

I decided it would be a good day to walk to Wada (about 50 mins normally) to see if I could get some good pictures of the mountains….I didn’t bet on over half way not being cleared, so I had to push through up to a foot of snow! It was a good leg workout, but the number of “stupid gaijin” looks I got from people driving past was priceless!

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On another day I went out to get some pictures of the mountains and got some stunning results!

Well, that’s it for now, I’ll have a few Christmas posts in the next few days 🙂

Until then, またね!


This week was fantastic fun (especially for letting my creative juices flow). It was ‘school spirit week’ with a different theme to dress up in each day – admittedly not a lot of people dressed up, but those of us who did had a LOT of fun!

Monday was crazy hat/hair week.

Tuesday was back to front and inside out day (lots of inside out clothes that day)

Wednesday was cross-dressing – a lot of gaijin guys dressing up in dresses with a couple of traps hanging about in there!

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Aren’t they beautiful?

Thursday was heroes and villains – Elena and I decided (last minute) to make some avengers costumes because they would be showing the Avengers in the evening. Thanks to Daiso and Uniclo, this what all 3 of us came up with:

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loki costume

Friday was school colours (green and white) and then in the evening there was a ‘decades’ themed disco. It started out like a normal school disco – nobody really dancing and not many people there – but as we got through the 60s and into the 70s more people turned up and we were jamming to Abba, then Queen, Tina Turner, Gloria Gaynor, the Spice Girls, Fresh Prince of BelAir, Survivor, Green Day….you name a nostalgic song, we were there singing and dancing along to it!

I’ve also been having a creative nails week – starting off with some Scottish flags, then some snowflakes (due to the fact that we got more snow on Thursday) and then some patriotic Union flags today:

Photo: Oh the weather outside is frightful....

Photo: Today's nails are a bit patriotic :)

Oh, and it’s the 1st of DECEMBER!!!! First door of the advent calendar opened today 🙂 It also meant that I had a go at making mincemeat today – it should be ready before Christmas…..

Well, until then 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!



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