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

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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…


Days to go: 31!

I’ve only been to Japan for a grand total of 4 weeks over the last 2 years, but there is so much I find myself missing while I’m back in the UK. Seriously, I get withdrawal symptoms the minute I get on the plane home. Attempting to copy stuff here just doesn’t cut it, either, it’s just not ‘Japan’ enough.

So in no particular order, my Japan cravings (which will be fulfilled the minute I get back into the country:

1. Osakan food
Ok, so I won’t be able to fulfil this one quite as soon as I get to Japan, but I’ll be working on it! Basically, some of the best food you will ever taste comes from Osaka – it’s the atmosphere as well as the food, since Osakan’s are ridiculously friendly! Some of the best Osakan food I’ve tasted is either Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki (and yes I know they’re not only Osakan but they are famous for them!).

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I’ve tried making Takoyaki (rather unsuccessfully with a Pop-cake make) and they didn’t taste as good as when I made them with my host-family last year…Octopus covered in batter and then seaweed/dried fish tastes better than it sounds. I can’t wait have Takoyaki in Osaka again.

2. Ranchipakku

These are basically little sandwiches that are sealed at the edges and contain a vast array of interesting flavours: maple syrup and butter, hamburger, curry, egg. You name it, there’s probably a Ranchipakku with it in! My favourite is the hamburger one, it’s so yummy (mostly because it was eaten at the top of Mt. Rokko)

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3. Manga at an affordable price/Book Off! stores

Book off. What can I say? I would live in this store if I could. It basically sells second-hand books and manga at ridiculous prices (100-500 yen), but the Japanese second-hand isn’t like the UK second-hand. We’re quite happy to give a book into a charity-shop/car-boot sale a bit crumpled, a couple of pages torn maybe. These books are in almost pristine condition!

4. Punctual public transport

If a train says it’s gonna arrive at 10.38, it will (unless someone has jumped on the tracks/there’s been an earthquake) arrive at 10.38. If the platform says the train doors will open at this spot on the platform, they’re gonna. Yes, there is the little issue of being jammed onto a rush-hour train, but hey! It’s fun, and you don’t have to hold on, just follow the flow of the crowd! Enjoy it (and it gives you and excuse to casually jab anyone in the ribs if they’re trying to grope you – yes, it happens!)!

5. The ‘gaijin look’

This can cover two phenomena in Japan. First is the obvious one – ‘gaijin’ is the slang for a foreign person and, outside of the capital, there aren’t that many about. Ergo, you’ll get stared at most places you go and it’s hilarious to watch people pretend they aren’t staring.

This is a great article about it: http://www.japanprobe.com/2011/10/03/fake-book-cover-why-do-japanese-people-stare-at-foreigners/

It’s also fun to listen to what people are saying about you (pretending you don’t understand).

The other ‘gaijin look’ is a less common, but no less funny, one. This is when two ‘gaijin’ catch each other’s eye (on a train/public place/etc.) and then fervently ignore each other in case you get asked for directions or something. It’s bonding in the worst way!

6. Colourful draincovers

These are a wonder in themselves (if you know where to look). Most places in Japan have their own unique design of sewer drain cover – they usually show a local landmark/speciality. I love it when I find a new one when I’m on some adventure.

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7. 100 yen stores

Comparing these to £1 stored here in Britain is like comparing roses to daisies, it’s just not the same…I love shopping in hundred yen stores, especially because they are such good quality – and a great place to get cheap presents!!

8. Gatchapon

What are gatachapon you ask? THESE are gatchapon. Those little vending machines that give you knock off plastic rings and swallow your one and only pound coin? Not in Japan. I saved up all my hundred yen coins and this is a fraction of the gatchapon I bought – there are pokemon ones, blue exorcist ones, hello kitty ones….they’re everywhere!

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9. Real Udon Noodles

Udon stand full of random people, steaming hot bowl of freshly made udon noodles, the sounds of slurping echoing around you. Nothing better and don’t you go comparing them to cup-ramen or I will hunt you down!

10. CC Lemon

CC Lemon is the most amazing drink, mostly since the bottle says ‘with the power of 100 lemons in it’ (the cans have less than this, but they’re still pretty cool). If they weren’t 300 yen a pop, I would probably drink them all day, every day, but ho hum!

CC Lemon! I’M COMING FOR YOU!!!



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