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

Tag Archives: Akita

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!

cross dressing

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:


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!

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… 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.


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!

P1060731 P1060728

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


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…’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!



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:


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).


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!


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.


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


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?


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.


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!



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).



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?


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.


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.


It was heaven on tired feet!


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!

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.


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!


(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!)


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:



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!




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


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

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


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


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.


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.



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).


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!


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.

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.


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.


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).


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!


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….


Well, until next time folks! またね!

As of yesterday, I’ve been here a whole month and I’ve begun to notice little things – nothing important, just odd at times! For example: in the UK you’ll often have birds hanging about, or flying in little flocks. Here? Here it’s swarms of dragonflies. I’m sure they’ll disappear as soon as the weather gets cooler, but for the moment, they’re everywhere!
Anoter thing I’ve noticed, which I was kind of expecting, is the gaijin stare. Every time I get on a train, it’s the look that says ‘it’s a foreigner, I’ve never seen one of those before’. Or it’s the look from another foreigner that’s as if to say ‘what the hell is another foreigner doing up here in the middle of nowhere’. They blantantly missed the signs that said Akita International University…
It’s also rice-harvesting season at the moment, so all the elderly farmers are out in their miniature tractors and their floppy hats. Akita is a very agricultural country but the average age of a farmer here is about 70. Saying that, though, they seem to keep Japan in it’s rice as the region is famous for Akita Komachi rice.
Even though it’s only been four weeks, I think I’m starting to fall in love with this place – I think it’s the same tenderness I hold for Scotland. Akita is a lot more laid back than places like Tokyo and, although you really need a car to enjoy it, it’s surrounded by beautiful scenery. A part of my heart will definately be left here when I leave….
On that poignant note, またね…

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