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

Tag Archives: Japan

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!


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:


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!


(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!




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.


peer 2

IMG_0562peer 1

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!

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!

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 (^^)


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.


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.


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)!



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:






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:


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!


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!).




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!


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!


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!



(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


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

Oh…and this happened:


So until next time: またね!

Where do I start? Probably with HAPPY NEW YEAR (akemashite omedetou gozaimasu, kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu)! It’s been a few weeks since New Year, but it feels a lifetime ago! I had quite an adventurous trip – first stop was Tokyo (riding down in the night bus was eventful to say the least, definitely cheap travel for a reason).

I arrived in Tokyo to this:


(this is literally just after I stepped off the bus in Shinjuku)

Not only did I feel ridiculously small, but the weather was absolutely glorious – especially compared with the mess we had in Akita. The bus arrived in Tokyo at about 8am and I couldn’t check in until 15.30 so I had a lot of time to kill. After a little trouble, I managed to dump my suitcase in a coin locker and went off to explore Tokyo.

Since the weather was this fabulous, I thought it would be a good idea to go up Tokyo tower and see if the view would be decent. I certainly wasn’t wrong! When I reached the top, all I could hear around me was people going ‘ah, Fuji-san’.




After this, the weather was still lovely, so I went for a trek around Ueno Park with all its temples:





However, the best bit? Sitting down by the huge fountain (in front of the art museum), listening to an old man play his banjo in the late afternoon sun. It was the most relaxing time I’ve had in a while…..



Next was a whole different type of fun! In the backstreets of Ueno, there are some windy narrow streets full of shops selling foreign merchandise, kebabs, etc. That day was unexpectedly crowded so, even through there were police trying to split up the traffic flow, the crush was immense!! It was great fun just trying to get from one end to the other without getting pushed over.


Skipping ahead to the second day (missing the part where I got lost trying to find my hotel and then surprising the clerk when he found out that, yes, I could speak Japanese), it was beautiful weather again. This time I decided it might be rather nice to walk under the Rainbow Bridge. There is a promenade, I’m not just going all spiderman on it! I took the train over the Minato-ku and then walked the few kilometres across the bridge to a park on the other side (in Odaiba I think), where some old battlements and cannons are still there. I also happened to see a bunch of people dressed up as Power Rangers…..




At this point, I could ignore the call no longer and decided I had to let the geeky part of me loose in Akihabara – the biggest geek paradise of them all. I randomly met 2 AIU students there and we went for a trawl of a HUGE figurine store (I escaped with a few key rings, despite the fabulous Predator and Avengers figurines they had for sale).


Since it was New Year’s Eve that night, I had to decide what I was doing pretty early on. Unfortunately, the people I was supposed to meet up with were being stupidly unorganised and not answering my texts. So by about 8pm I went with ‘screw you, I’m going to enjoy New Year my way, by myself’. I trekked over to Tokyo Tower and just got in before they shut down for the New Year viewing (it was 9.30 by then). People who wanted to see the first sunrise were already queuing up with thermal blankets and whatnot! The view from Tokyo Tower at night was pretty spectacular and I tried to grab a good spot (facing rainbow bridge) ready for the countdown.


3 hours I stood there, I could see the people crowding into the temple down below for the first visit of the year, I could see an outdoor show in the park nearby. The countdown got closer and the Fuji TV building was lit up. So what happened when the clock struck 12? Bugger all. We could see the fireworks going off in Yokohama and what did we get? Balloons. Friggin’ balloons!! I cheered with everyone else and then caught one of the very crowded trains back to Shinjuku for my 4 hours sleep (it was 2.30 by then and I had to be up by 6.30 to get to the airport).


I’ll cut this off here, next stop: INDONESIA!!


A/N Forgot to post this before I left for the land with no wifi 🙂 Enjoy!

It’s not been feeling particularly Christmassy here, especially since this is my first Christmas away from my family! However this Sunday, my church had a ‘Candlelight Service’ – basically a bit like a Christingle service crossed with a carol service. This is one of my favourite parts of Christmas so I was eager to go.

The actual service wasn’t until 6pm, and I have bugger all to do here at the moment, so I decided to go into Akita early. I thought that at 2 in the afternoon, the free shuttle bus might not be too busy….I only managed to get a seat because I was near the front of the queue! You certainly can’t have any personal space issues on Japanese buses (one I was on the other day had upwards of 60 people on it).

It was a rare sunny day, so I got a fabulous view of the mountains (I know I go on about them, but they are beautiful and they remind me of home)!


Anyways….I underestimated how many people would be out shopping, so after braving the crowds I decided to get out of the shops and see if I could find the castle ruins of Akita city. They’re actually why Akita city was build in the first place – to surround the castle! While not much of it was left, there were a couple of temples, the main gate and a fantastic view left for visitors to enjoy. I certainly did!




After taking a load of pictures, I realised I had to run to get the next train to get me to Tsuchizaki (where the church is) so I carefully sped back towards the station over the snow covered streets.

Even though I was early, it was a good job I got to the church when I did – the seat filled up fast! The actual service was a collection of the various worship groups – so it was more like an end of term concert! There was the infamous Gospel Hula Group, the Hallelujah Kids and several members of the congregation. This included a very moving version of ‘You raise me up’ on the saxophone – I was caught off guard when half way through the performance they started to show a slideshow of the damage from the Tohoku Earthquake/Tsunami. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only one who didn’t have dry eyes!


The finale was what made it best. We were all given candles at the beginning of the service and at the end, we passed a flame among the congregation (wishing people ‘Merry Christmas’ as we did). The candles were amazing, the bottoms changed colour! The lights were dimmed and we all sung the Japanese version of Silent Night.

Definitely a nice way to spend an evening!

Next will be New Year’s stuff, so until then – またね!

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:



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


Bible Study Christmas Party:


This is the wonderful food that Bonnie cooked for us:


(And my Mince Pies)

2013-12-13 17.41.03

And then? Then THIS happened….


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:


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!



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!

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