Through AIU, Akita has provided me with experiences that can only be described as magical, from feeling the snow falling on my bare skin in outdoor onsen (hot springs), to being soaked by waves on the Oga peninsula. Here, I have made mochi (rice cakes), learned to play the bamboo flute, and seen a Kabuki performance. I have visited Kakunodate, a beautiful old samurai village, and Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan -- so deep it never freezes over.
Participating in a Local Wedding
Particularly memorable was a homestay to Ugo town in the midwinter, where I got to experience a traditional rural wedding. The snow was so thick that weekend that all the houses seemed double their size from the amount of snow on top of them. We lit tea-lights in little holes that had been carved into the walls of snow by the roads, then warmed ourselves by the open fire as we waited for the wedding to begin.
The bride and groom arrived in a carriage, accompanied by a wedding party that, dressed in traditional costume, had walked all the way up the mountain. When they arrived, it was dark, but we could see the snow falling from the light of the candles in the walls. The bride and groom were both in kimono, despite the cold, and the bride was wearing a beautiful headdress.
A woman sang enka songs (classical Japanese ballads), and then there was a performance from the high school’s taiko (Japanese drumming) team. The bride and groom then made speeches and threw mochi and mikan (tangerines) at the audience. Later, we drank warm amazake (sweet, non-alcoholic sake) and talked all night. The next day, we went tobogganing with local children, and jumped face-first into the deep snow.
Another time, I participated in a local Hiburi-Kamakura fire festival in the rice fields near a school in the city. We began by making offerings to the kami (deity) at a little wooden shrine, with a huge bonfire roaring nearby. Then we swung fireballs around our head to rid ourselves of bad fortune and purify ourselves for the new year. It was an experience that I never expected to do on my year abroad; nor is it one I think I’ll ever forget.
Cultural Experiences in Akita
Like many others, I came to Japan to experience its rich culture, and Akita is a prefecture so rich in festivals, folklore, and food that I found when writing this article I honestly had too many amazing experiences to mention.
Through clubs and services such as RCOS, AIU offers opportunities to not only view Akita’s unique traditions but participate in them. Akita may not be Tokyo, Kyoto or Osaka, but neither is Japan just Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. If you want to experience a different side of Japan, then Akita, and therefore AIU, is surely the place to go.