For the last three months, I spent most of my time in Akita out of all of the prefectures in Japan, as my school was located in this area. Akita is a prefecture that is often forgotten by foreign tourists. Admittedly, the idea of Akita is presumably the furthest from the idea of Tokyo, a metropolitan city breathing in its large population (currently ranked number one) and hungrily drawing the entirety of Japan into its heartbeat. Due to the appealing nature of Tokyo, everybody is leaving their own homes to begin a new life in the metropolitan city, leaving prefectures like Akita behind.
Life in the countryside: Nature and antiquity
Personally, it had been difficult living in Akita, as I am from New York City, which is another metropolitan city with continuous momentum and life. What surrounds my school are rice paddies and a few highway roads, and it’s rather difficult to reach its central city as the bus/train schedules are rather spread out. However, the beauty of Akita does not lie in its convenience as that might be the reason to be in Tokyo; rather, the beauty lies in its nature and the antique feel in its cities.
Some of the reasons to visit Akita is due to its beautiful cherry blossoms. Compared to the rest of the prefectures in Japan, the cherry blossom bloom rather late in Akita (around late April and early May). Perhaps it is due to its harsh winters, but it is a satisfying sight and a spectacular view when the cherry blossoms completely cover our surroundings.
Mini adventure to the unknown
One of the best experiences I had in Akita was venturing out and riding my bike down the street, and coming across a beautiful shrine that I didn’t even know the name of; and this was something special, as shrines and temples that are commonly known are crowded with foreigners. This was the only shrine that I’ve been to that didn’t have a taste of excitement, rather, it was completely peaceful as shrines and temples are meant to be. The entrance to the shrine had a torii gate, which marks the division between the physical and spiritual worlds. And the shimenawa sacred rope, made from rice straw or hemp, hung horizontally across the red pole of the torii gate.
Once I entered the gate, I had to climb up a long flight of stairs which eventually turned into a slope. The experience was not as strenuous as the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto, but it felt like a toll after a bike ride in the mountainous hills of Akita. The view of the forest afterwards was certainly worth the effort, with the beaming sun peeking its face through the long limbs of the trees.
At the top of the hill was the wooden shrine that I was anticipating for, but it looked more like a house with a bell inside. I could not see what was inside since the doors were closed and the monks were not around. In the front of the shrine was a komainu, a guardian lion dog that are traditionally placed before the entrance of a Shinto shrine to ward off evil. The whole experience felt like a spiritual journey, as it was secluded from civilization, which is an experience impossible to earn in cities like Tokyo or Kyoto.
Get lost to find Zen
It is an undeniable fact that cities in Japan are beautiful, but they lack something in comparison to those lesser-known prefectures. A sort of richness. A feeling of zen that’s not replaced by the excitement and stimulation provided in the cities. These prefectures have been soaking in the old traditions and protecting the sacred landmarks, and they are worth visiting as much as the cities of Tokyo.