Life in Daisen — Katlin Long-Wright

“She gets me, she really gets me!” That’s what I would title a song about my experience in Japan.

In this incredible country, I have found adventure, experienced scenic views that go as far as the eye can see, made new friends, and learned from the amiable people of Japan. It has been an absolute pleasure living in Akita, and as such, I'm going to boast about this incredible place. I have strived to go on a new adventure every month since moving here, to explore the prefecture and then share with others about my new home.

First stop, Oga! Wow, what a blast this weekend was. At this point, I did not know the other ALTs very well, so I ventured out on my own to explore the Western most part of the peninsula. As I drove towards the Japan sea, a mocha from Doppio Coffee in hand, and some Bon Iver playing in the background, I was captivated by the luscious green countryside of Akita. Seeing this beauty, I was bubbling with excitement for my new home. I arrived at the parking lot, grabbed my gear, and immediately began exploring. The view was incredible! I walked down to the bluffs and stopped at the latitude monument. I couldn’t help but want a picture standing in front of the monument, but to do that I had to use my very little knowledge of Japanese to ask two very kind women for help. It was well worth it; I was able to perform a jump in the photo! After exploring a bit further, I discovered a trail leading down the bluffs towards the beach. I went for it. When I got to the bottom I couldn’t believe how cool the rocks were - they reminded me of another planet, like Krypton from the Superman comics.

I love exploring unfamiliar natural formations so needless to say I was in heaven. The changing hues of green and blue in the water were uncanny. I sat and enjoyed lunch on these rocks for the better part of two hours. After a fun time sitting by the sea, and hanging out with thousands of dragonflies (my favourite insect), I paid ¥200 to climb up to the top of Oga lighthouse. The view from the top was breathtaking; I was overwhelmed by it. This land is truly ancient and has a voice of its own. This was my first weekend of exploration in Japan, and as such, I was buzzing with anticipation for my next outing.

Next up, my first Japanese festival experience. When I arrived in Japan, I told my friends in Tokyo and Nara that I was moving to Daisen, they unanimously said that I HAD to see Omagari Hanabi. I didn’t understand how a fireworks show could be such a big deal. I mean in Canada we have them all the time - they`re fun, but it's nothing to write... Then came the night of the fireworks and I understood why my friends held it in such high regard.

Daisen City swelled to six times its population in one day; the streets were used by people and vendors in the city for the show, not cars. When I reached the river bank where we’d watch the fireworks, I was overwhelmed by the sight of people. I've never seen a turn out like that for a fireworks display ever in my life. Food vendors lined the walkways, where I bought three ice-cold Sapporo cans, before making my way to the tatami-covered seating area. My group, comprised of other new ALTs and staff from the Board of Education, sat and talked for three hours waiting for dusk to come. At this time, I took in small conversations with families seated next to us and was very fortunate to meet the mayor. When the sun finally dipped beneath the horizon the crowd beamed with eager anticipation for the competition to start.

First, the music. Then came the first explosion. And then, in that moment, I understood what my friends, who lived all the way in Tokyo, hours away from Daisen, had meant. The synchronous performance of brilliantly coloured hanabi exploding along to perfectly timed melodies, played over large stadium speakers, flooded me with exhilaration the likes of which I had never felt before. As the remnants of the exploded hanabi cascaded down through the black sky, they became the milky pastels in a grand collage. The smoke acted as an enhancer bouncing the light from the explosions into the sky making it easier to see the colour menagerie. When the new hanabi exploded, the smoke helped to create a vibrant image in the night sky. It was like watching an artist creating a beautiful water-colour painting. Absolutely stunning. When the show ended we all stood, every one of us, waved neon glow sticks and cheered to show our appreciation for the amazing fireworks display. I will never forget this experience.

The following weekend I went to another national treasure of Japan: Lake Tazawa. My friend Taisei from Chiba came to visit and was adamant that we visit three places: The Namahage Museum, Kanmanji Temple, and Lake Tazawa.

We went to the Namahage Museum and were scared half to death by a live show involving `real` Namahage. Taisei was almost taken by them when he delayed in answering their question: “do you listen to your parents?” Scary ordeal for a 22 year-old. We were given some straw from their clothing which symbolizes good fortune in the year to come. It was awesome. The next day we set out for Kanmanji Temple and were pleasantly surprised to meet the guide and caretaker of the temple grounds. He offered to take us around the temple and provide an oral history of the site. We learned that a 1,000 year-old tree flourished in the temple garden and that at one point the entire plain was under water but a massive earthquake drained the lake leaving land ‘islands’ behind. Our guide capped off the tour by stating that “normally people are not allowed into the [inner sanctum] of the temple”, but that he wanted to show it to us. Talk about a rad dude! As we left, he showed us the Japanese banana tree in the main garden and explained that the author Matsuo Bashou composed his work “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” at the temple.

We ended the weekend with a visit to Lake Tazawa. Taisei explained to me that Lake Tazawa is famous across Japan for its distinct hue of blue and that it even has a colour named after it: Tazawa Blue. I couldn’t believe how many different shades of blue the water and scenery yielded; it really was fantastic (definitely earned the right to have its own crayon colour). The more I explore Akita, the more I am continually blown away by the many colours of Akita’s landscape. I am very fortunate to call this prefecture home and I cannot wait to head out on my next adventure – surfing in Oga sounds like a good place to start though. ;)

 Katlin Long-Wright