Saturday, April 21, 2012

Winter in Akita

Some thoughts on a season passed, written about a month ago.

Although we still had the occasional snowfall, and a windy snow typhoon (in April!!), winter is over. It vanished. I woke up one morning and It Was Spring. I’m not sure where winter ran off to – maybe the mountains? But even they are quickly fading from white to brown and almost green. I knew it was officially over the day I found bird poo on my windshield. That was it; spring couldn’t turn back now. 

My memories of the season that passed are still pretty fresh.

That's the spirit.

Rather long and full of snow it was. Six to eight weeks ago, maybe, I was walking down sidewalks lined with snow walls that reached my shoulders in some spots, and towered above my head in others. Nearly every day it snowed, though apparently not as much as last year. I drove to work in all kinds of inclement weather, but of course school was never canceled. Although we were told to stay home one day at the beginning of the month because it was quite windy. 

Some days I truly felt like I was roughing it, burning my kerosene to keep warm - no central heating in these parts. But I didn't mind too much. I grew to associate the smell of kerosene with warmth and comfort and now I kind of like it.

My parking lot
Note how the pile is taller than my car, and this is after some of the snow has melted.
Instructions for shoveling your roof.
The seasons here are extreme, which adds to their charm. Once I adjusted to feeling like I had landed in an SUV commercial each time I drove (except the bumps and jolts came from ruts of slush-turned-ice, not exhilarating mountain trails) and didn’t fear for my life each time I set out for the post office, winter was a blast.
Some streets have water spouts running down the middle to keep the snow at bay

View from the English room

Poor abandoned car

Favourite Things:

Sitting under my kotatsu with mugs of tea and good books. A Kotatsu is like a coffee table with a space heater underneath. A blanket is fitted under the tabletop, creating a delightful little chamber of warmth that just dares you to leave. Once tucked in, it's hard to justify extricating yourself to pad around your cold, non-centrally-heated apartment. Provided that good books and a whole pot of tea are within reach, of course.

Snowboarding. Though it wasn’t my first time, having given snowboarding a go a few times in high school, it was my first time actually spending a season figuring out how to properly get down the hill on a board and not find myself unexpectedly upside down with the tip of my board jammed into the wonderfully-deep powder. Or catapulting face-first into the stuff and wearing a sick mask the next day at school to cover the swollen bruises (but I mean really - who does that? dunno...). That being said, this still happens, just less often. Thanks to Akita’s generous deluge of powder and mountainous terrain, this was the perfect place to master the skill of not-being-suddenly-upside-down. I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to wake up at 7am every Saturday.

Nearly-buried portapotty
Onsen. Snowy outdoor hotspring baths surrounded by forest and mountains – pretty sweet. Not gonna get to do this in Canada any time soon. I don't think we're as fond of being nude in nature.
Ramen. I never thought I would come to love noodles this much. Favourite: big bowls of steaming hot gyoza miso ramen with chilli oil at Hokkaiya in Yokote, or the ramen heaped with garlic at Kamikura.

Winter festivals!! Even better than the summer festivals!!! Drinking hot sweet rice amazake in igloos and watching people smash other people with bamboo poles around huge piles of burning garbage and giant tug-of-wars and sculptures of snow dogs and fireworks and swinging fireballs around my head!!! These were exciting times indeed.

Inukko, Yuzawa
Tug of war, Kariwano

Building mini-igloos for Kamakura festival

And now that the festival's been over for 12 hours, let's bulldoze the kamakuras
Fire swinging festival, Kakunodate
Takeuchi, Rokugo

Finally, going to bed each night having spent an hour shovelling snow, thinking that surely the sky must have emptied its powdery stores...only to wake up to another near-foot on my windshield. Really, this was actually the only thing I loathed, but the awe it inspired remains a highlight.

Or coming back from vacation to discover... 

I think I may be missing something.
Half an hour later
This showed up outside my school one day.

Why are the students tunneling in the snow on the field outside the school? I asked one of my teachers, who told me that the students had to shovel snow (pretty much in circles) because they didn't finish their homework. Menial manual labour as punishment - brilliant.

 Sure, everyone raves about the “cherry blossom front” that's rapidly approaching – but winter here must be a close second.


  1. Wow! Those pictures are amazing! That is hilarious about the punishments as well!! So funny!

    It sounds like you are having such an awesome time Katie! I love reading all about it!

  2. Sweet! So cozy! And so many adventures. Almost makes me wish winter was back so I can put a space heater under my coffee table, throw a blanket over it, cuddle up, and pretend I'm Japanese.

    Keep the pics of kids' homework assignments & quirky task instructions coming -- so funny!