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

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By the time I post this, the cherry blossom will be gone. However last week, the cherry blossoms hit Akita in full force! Last year, they were apparently a bit rubbish (knocked off by rain, few flowers, etc.) but my experience of them was pretty good!

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Yes, those are daffodils you see by the side of the road – a nice reminder of home! It always makes me think of the thousands of daffodils that line the main road out of my hometown Aberdeen.

Now, in Akita the best (and probably most famous) spot to see the cherry blossoms is Kakunodate (an old Samurai village – also where the float matsuri took place in October). I went TWICE.

The first visit was with some friends over the weekend – we had aimed to walk to the station and get there nice and early. Things did not quite go to plan…we had to change trains and Omagari where we were forced to wait for 3 hours until the next train. This turned out to be more fun than expected – we found a tiny ramen restaurant to eat lunch in AND got Rick-rolled at a market. Seriously – the last song I would expect to hear in Japan was ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’. We didn’t end up in Kakunodate until around 4pm, but there were still plenty of people and, best of all: Festival Food Stands.

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Naturally, we also had to eat cherry blossom ice cream:

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(even as I write this, I’m eating cherry blossom flavoured jelly beans…)

The second time I visited was on the aforementioned Bus Trip. We set off (in 5 buses, seriously there were loads of people) ridiculously early and ended up in Kakunodate by mid-morning. The weather was perfect. It must have been about 17 degrees (ending up at 20 degrees by the afternoon) with clear blue skies, crowds of cherry blossoms viewers and us, the obligatory foreigners.

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After a few hours wandering around Kakunodate, visiting some of the old samurai houses and watching some of the shows of traditional songs/dances.

We then moved on to Lake Tazawa. I had visited it before (on the same trip that took us to the float festival), however it had been a miserable day. So I was looking forward to seeing it in the brilliant sunshine! There were a few people who had planned to go swimming, but were a little more intelligent – it was April, after several months of snow, at the deepest lake in Japan, so the water was going to be freezing. We weren’t disappointed. We did go in for a paddle, but the was quite enough and we had a good laugh at the screams of the swimmers!

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The lake itself was as beautiful as I had hoped – deep, clear blue water, surrounded by snow covered hills.

We also visited the other side of the lake, the drive round it also beautiful. When we got there, it was time for ice cream: round 2! The local hotel had a beautiful rose garden in the summer so, fittingly, it sold rose flavoured ice cream.

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Sadly, now the cherry blossom is slowly becoming just a carpet of petals lining the roads and covering cars, soon to be gone for another year. It’s a little sad, but I guess that’s nature for you!

One thing I’ve realised is just how fast this year has gone – it’s already May! Not long until I go home…a sad thought, but one I’ll have to deal with soon.

On a final note for this post, I’m making a little shout-out to Bonson Lam, one of my blog readers (yes, they’re out there somewhere), whom I met on Sunday at church. It was lovely to meet you and I’m so glad you got to experience Tsuchizaki Gloria Chapel!

As for the rest of you, that’s it for another post. So until next time, またね!


Wow it’s been a while, hasn’t it! I’ve been on holiday…

LET’S RECAP!!

So, in a ridiculously random occurrence, it turned out I was going to Hiroshima on the same bus and at the same time as one of my friends. So it turned into a surprise Brit-expedition to Hiroshima!

I can highly recommend NOT doing what we did, i.e. doing a double night bus via Tokyo (10hrs and then 13hrs). It’s a killer…

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However, with a short dally in Tokyo (that included some early cherry blossoms) and a VERY long night journey to Hiroshima, we made it while still mostly sane!

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Since we were in Hiroshima, it was only fitting that we visited the Atomic Bomb Dome and the Peace Museum. Both were horrific and moving…seriously. We came outta there really depressed but by then were able to check into our respective hotels. Also, I think I may have found the worst hotel in Hiroshima, I swear that room just about managed to fit a single bed into it. That was about it. I also had the wondrous (note the sarcasm) experience of having to use a public bath…

The second day was really drizzly, so as Brits we decided it was the perfect day to go to a castle, eat ice cream and okonomiyaki and then a temple walk through the forest. We were slightly soggy when we got back…

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That day (well, technically 2am the next morning) also decided it would a great time for me to experience my first earthquake – and not even a small one. It was M6 when it struck, just off Oita prefecture so that meant it was at least M5 when it hit Hiroshima. It scared the crap outta me, and I didn’t move until it was all over. Ellie, on the other hand, almost managed to sleep through it.

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Regardless, we still managed to be up relatively early, get the tram to the wrong port in Hiroshima, take another hour getting back into the city and getting the tram to the right port, so that we could catch the ferry to Miyajima. All before 12! Miyajima is an island with one of Japan’s ‘famous views’ – its floating shrine.

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We also managed to trek up to the top of the mountain on Miyajima – seriously, it was steps ALL THE WAY! We got a view from the top, though so it was totally worth it! That and the ropeway trip back down the mountain…

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On our last day together in Hiroshima, we decided to do yet another temple walk (cause you can never visit too many temples!), this time in the nearby seaside town of Onomichi. The town itself was very quaint, and had lots of old-looking touristy shops. It also had a ropeway, that led up to an observatory and few temples on top of a hill in the middle of the town.

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It was another beautiful day, so we went up to the observatory, ate lunch looking out at the beautiful scenery and then set off for a couple of hours to see the temples on the walk. To get to the majority of the temples, we had to walk back down the hill, through tiny winding streets – one of which contained an art garden. There were cute little cat statues hidden along the path and, in Japan of all places, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robert Burns was painted on a wall…

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We also stumbled upon a temple, where there were pigeons ambling around – we could also buy food to give them.

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That night, Ellie carried on with her journey and the following night I headed back to Tokyo – my Mum and younger sister were coming to Tokyo to spend a week with me.

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My week in Tokyo was lovely. For the first few days, we did a lot of toursity things – Tokyo Tower, Tokyo National Museum (the day it rained horrendously), Asakusa.

We went to Asakusa on my birthday (18th March), which also happened to be the day they held the ‘Golden Dragon Dance’ (Kinryuu no Mai). I only found this out through a Japanese website, it wasn’t mentioned in any of the guidebooks, but I can highly recommend it!

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In the evening, we went up Tokyo Tower (I know, again…it must have been my third time there) to see the sunset. Admittedly, the best part of my birthday was being able to eat a Tesco birthday cake!

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We also made a trip out to the famous temple collection at Nikko (about 2 hours from Tokyo by train). Oddly enough, like the previously mentioned Yuzawa City, Nikko also reminded a lot of Aviemore. The town was the home of the famous ‘See no evil, Speak no evil, Hear no evil’ monkeys, as well as a large number of lavishly designed temples and the tomb of one of the Shogunate.

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That Friday was a national holiday and so we had organised to meet up with Mum’s childhood friend Fumiko, and her family. She had organised a wonderful day out at a few touristy places – Roppongi Hills, the Imperial Palace Gardens, a river cruise in Asakusa and finally back to their apartment for a delicious dinner. Alice and Mum tried sushi for the first time (Alice didn’t like it, I think, but Mum seemed to – I will never be a huge fan of it!). They also bought me a lovely birthday cake, which we all shared.

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On our last day in Tokyo, we visited Odaiba (on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge). There was a lovely area full of retro shops, restaurants and gaming arcades which I and my sister enjoyed a lot. We had a go on a retro pinball machine and saw original Street Fighter, Gallaga and Space Invaders games.

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We were hanging about Odaiba because, in the evening, they were going to have the annual ‘Tokyo Gundam Project’ show – an event where they project images onto the giant Gundam robot statue (apparently it moved one year). The show took place in the evening, so all the lights suddenly went out just as it started.

Mum and Alice flew back to the UK the next day and I got the night bus back to Akita, to get ready for the new term….

Well that’s all for now, I’ll try to get a post out during the weekend about our new arrivals. So until then, またね!



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