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

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I am still alive, honestly! It’s FINALLY the end of term and the chaos of exams are out of the way (not that I can really complain – I only had 2). Since I’ve been a bit busy I’ll recap a couple of the adventures I’ve had in the last few weeks.

First, as I mentioned at the end of my last post, was the Yokote Kamakura festival. Kamakuras are basically igloos, but made by hollowing out a pile of snow:


We started out at a smaller festival where we helped out with preparation, welcoming people into kamakuras and making amazake/mochi (as seen in the picture).


We also had to help serve tea and mochi inside a restored old house – we were all led by a very strict obaa-chan who gave us a strict warning if we got anything wrong. I also had to use some of my keigo on the customers. The mochi we were serving people inside the house was some that we had made earlier. Mochi is made by pounding cooked rice into a paste and then you can eat it with sweet red bean paste.

Everyone got to have a go at making the mochi, but it was quite tricky! You had to swing a really heavy mallet and keep in time, so that you didn’t hit the woman’s hand! It was good fun, though. Even the children got to have a go – with the help of an adult.

There also happened to be a giant snow slide for the kids (and possibly a couple of university students) to slide down on fertilizer bags…


In the evening, we went to the main festival in Yokote – scattered around the city were many different sized Kamakuras. This included the grounds of the primary school being covered with lots of tiny Kamakuras (each with a little candle inside), a Kamakura police station and lots of snow carvings.





However, the best bit about going to the festival was definitely the festival food: I had some of the best Takoyaki I’ve had in a while, some of Yokote’s Yakisoba and plenty of Amazake!!

The next weekend, we had more “snow-filled fun”…there was a big snowball fight planned for about a month ago, but it ended up raining. We actually had it last week – a nice afternoon full of snow-dodgeball and a snowman competition.


The snowman competition was great fun – we had 20 minutes to build either the tallest or the best decorated snowman and there were some interesting results…

Ours won the best decorated (due to me running back to my apartment and grabbing my Loki costume from last term):


Luckily, the snow is finally starting to melt – there’s even some grass showing and you can see the pavement beneath your feet! The weather was even so mild the other day (10 degrees), I went for a lovely walk to see if I could get some pictures of the mountains in the sunshine. It was really strange, though, because at points it felt like I was either in the Suffolk countryside during winter, or even walking through the country back in Scotland!



Sadly, it being the end of term meant leaving another class and another lovely teacher behind:


Now it’s on to a lovely month long holiday! So, until my next update: またね!

As promised (if a little late), here is my update on my trip to Lake Tazawa and Kakunodate 🙂

This was the first of our big ‘school trips’ – I was well excited, I haven’t gone on a school trip in years! I think there ended up being about 200 of us – crammed onto 4 buses (think not quite sardines). At first, things on the bus were a bit tense – one of the American girls was singing rather loudly, in my opinion, and was getting a bit annoying. I held my tongue and just enjoyed the scenery instead! We passed loads of farms, little villages and with mountains framing the picture. It was beautiful. Unfortunately, this drive was marred a bit by paranoia (and bad singing). The other day, I saw a Chinook helicopter land at Akita airport. That day we passed a couple of military convoys (full of guys in uniform and including a gun mount vehicle) that must have numbered at least 30 vehicles. There was some suggestion that the countryside around here would be the perfect place to practice, but it still felt like the beginning of a horror/apocalypse movie (think ‘The Mist’).


We took a quick stop off at a place famous for producing Soy Sauce and Miso – home of the infamous soy sauce ice cream (don’t try this at home folks), before we were on our way again. Although this was not without hitches. One of the buses had broken down, so we had to squeeze the people onto the other buses – they had fold down seats for the aisle. At this point the singing had begun again and I would have snapped, had it not been for our Asia Pacific theme coming on – basically every time we had an Asia Pacific lecture in first year, me and my friend Eve (along with others) always ended up singing “I’ll make a man out of you”. When this song started, my British stiff upper lip broke and I joined in. This led to a bus-wide sing-along of “Call me maybe”, “Blue” (the song, not the band), “Don’t stop believing”, the “Sailor Moon Theme” and, the pies’de resistance (yeah, don’t judge my spelling) the “Pokemon Theme”. Yeah, now get that out of your head! It was my childhood (^^)



Our next stop was Lake Tazawa (Tazawako), which is the deepest lake in Japan. It must have been the clearest as well since you could see all the fish swimming in it – it was absolutely beautiful! It was so beautiful, in fact, that three of our party (all guys) decided it would be a great idea to go swimming in their pants – and then get back on the bus…..There was also a little shrine where you could get a  fortune – the ones that gave bad luck could be tied to the ropes around the shrine to ditch said bad luck:


After this, we had lost quite a lot of time (the term ‘be back at the bus by THIS TIME’ doesn’t seem to mean a lot to some people), so we had to miss out one of the stops on our trip – the wildflower garden. However, by this point it was bucketing it down, so we weren’t that disappointed! Instead, we headed straight to Kakunodate. I was presuming we were just going to look at the old Samurai houses (we had a ticket 2 of the old mansions), but when we got there, it turned out there was a big festival on! Most of the small town had turned out in traditional costumes and were moving giant floats which depicted legendary figures.



We were also able to try one of the local foods, called Kiritanpo. This is basically rice that has been pounded into a paste, wrapped around a stick and then cooked over an open fire – these ones had pork wrapped around them and a bit of BBQ sauce. They were absolutely delicious, and we also managed to cement the image of  Akita people being really friendly. We had a lovely conversation with the stall owner (in broken Japanese) and she was the smiliest person I’ve met so far!


After a lot of wandering about, waiting and then finding out we were in the wrong place, we eventually found out the floats were in another street. I think we ran as calmly as we could to go find them! Eventually we found one of the old streets that had a bunch of the floats being pulled down it. Two floats were being pushed against each other to see which one would win, traditional matsuri (festival) stalls lined the pavement selling yakitori and takoyaki (delicious). All the floats had now lit their lanterns, so they lit up the streets in a way that felt like we had stepped back in time. I guess we really had.


These guys were hilariously drunk and just posed in front of us….


Unfortunately, we had to get back to the bus by 7.30 (even the matsuri was just getting into full swing)  so we, like the good students we were,  headed back in the hope that we wouldn’t be the only ones. Luckily it turns out we weren’t, however one of the students (should I name and shame on here?) decided to make us wait an extra 40 minutes before coming back to the bus….we were ALL ready to high-five his face by the time he came back.

Well, hopefully that gives you an idea of what the trip was like – we’ve got another one to Oga at the beginning of October, so look forward to that one soon! However, next up will be a little weekend summary (including typhoons, church and a huge second-hand manga store). Until then, またね!

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