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！
So this is going to be a little round up of my first week in Japan and I have one word for it – hectic! Basically it was Orientation Week which means we had countless lectures on student life, courses, sex ed (yeah, we got a lecture on that one – by a 60 year old male gynaecologist), harassment prevention, cell phones…oh and a Proficiency Test! Yeah….that one was nasty – the questions were supposed to get progressively harder, but they just jumped from easy (Q1,2,3) to stupid (Q4 onwards) in a matter of seconds….not nice! My score worked out alright, though! I got into a class higher than what I was aiming for, so I’m going to have to do a bit of self-study to catch up, but you know what? I’m just happy that I don’t have to repeat 2nd year….
I’m sharing with a Japanese roommate, called Chino (she’s a little reserved – like me on a normal day). The layout is a little weird – there are two cabin beds (with desk/shelves and hanging rail underneath), a small kitchen (with hotplate, sink and tiny fridge), a toilet and a bathroom (shower/bath). It’s definitely bigger than my room back at University….
Some of my ‘up there’ moments from this week:
– A rather poignant speech by one of the lecturers (Darren Ashmore – a brit and not-so-closet Otaku) about how he got into Japanese. His uncle was a PoW in the war and lost a lot (including a leg and an eye) under torture; his mother never forgave the Japanese for what they did to her brother. However, the uncle could see past the propaganda and to the boys guarding him, who were of a similar age to him and seemed to have no idea what they were supposed to be doing, or why. He went back to Japan after the war and got to know the real Japan, not the one from the posters. It was very touching.
– My favourite meal so far at AIU – curry rice (カレーライス). I have to say, after a day of lectures and little sleep, eating a bowl of curry rice really hit the spot. Nothing better (although I may stand corrected as this adventure carries on).
– There is an advantage to your body deciding to wake up at 5am every morning – I go for a morning bug hunt. So far I have been chasing the Cicadas who disguise themselves into the tree bark. Also managed to surprise a janitor this morning when he found me lying in the middle of the path, trying to photograph a caterpillar….The bugs here are pretty cool – I also managed to get some photographs of a huge green cricket just chillin’ in the middle of the road!
– The library. What can I say? It’s got a huge selection of English language research books and fiction books (I’m already on my second Stephen King in 3 days), Japanese DVDs (including Disney ones – so I can go on a Disney Binge). It’s a beautiful woodwork decorated library in a semi-circle shape, so you get a beautiful panoramic view of all the books. Plus – it’s SILENT (or at least until they let all the international students loose on it…) which is a plus, because the UCLan Library is….ridiculously loud. It’s not for studying so much as socialising!
– Callum’s hilarious fail at reading Kanji (sorry, Callum, this had to go on here!). The words “what’s はん まえ ちゅう (han mae chuu)” were uttered while staring bewildered at a text containing the kanji: 午前中（ごぜんちゅう – to be read gozenchuu)….Oh, Callum….well it certainly gave us reason to have a proper laugh this morning!
Some icky moments:
– For some reason, my body has decided to wake me up at 5am EVERY MORNING! Breakfast isn’t open at the canteen until 7am, so I have to amuse myself with bug hunts and morning exercises until then 😦
– As much as I love thunder storms, having them wake me up at 4am twice in one week wasn’t exactly not I wanted…there was some fantastic rain, though – it was so loud!
After the Matriculation Ceremony today (in which we had lots of speeches and a beautiful performance of Saint-Saens by Keiko Watanabe – the violin teacher), I can now officially call myself a student of Akita International University. I hope that it will lay the path for a series of adventures and a genuinely wonderful experience here in Japan. Until then – またね！
(This is our ‘how white do we feel?’ photo with “Wan-chan the University Mascot)