Reub's journey

09 July 2012


I saw these carp in a pond in Akita and I thought they were so cool, but now when I look at the picture...oh man! They're monstrous! Ugly. Why am I starting with this?

Here, this is better. This is a cute little girl about to demonstrate a somersault in a tumbling demonstration put on by her school. Pink is a very common color for little girls in Japan, just like it is here in the US.

Funky country train ride, with a view of mountains and rice paddies.
I should explain that I am taking you on a whirlwind tour of some of the dozens of sites we visited in Akita Prefecture in northern Japan.

John's collaboration with Akita International University involves issues surrounding declining rural communities. It would appear that rural communities in Oregon face some of the identical problems.

This is fellow-collaborator Kate, standing next to a giant paper mache explosive in a tiny fireworks shop.
So we spent a lot of time touring communities and visiting cottage industries and other points of revitalization.

These are ladies at a community center; they meet to share recipes and write a cookbook together.
Where are all the young people? The aging population is left with the problems of a sagging health care system, decreasing family support, and isolation. Not what you think of when you think of Japan.

These guys are hunted by the locals. All body parts have uses, but the gall bladder is especially prized as a cure for hangovers. Apparently just a little dab will do.
They have bears in Akita prefecture! Another thing I didn't visualize! A bear ran through campus one morning, but of course I didn't see it.

Hillside cemeteries were a common sight.

Gorgeous (and expensive) thin wooden kitchen implements are made from Akita cedar.

We went to a small sake brewery & I was taken by some tools on the wall.

Workers must remove their shoes and wear slippers in this part of the brewery. The thing with shoe removal is somewhat complicated in Japan.

We visited a rural museum celebrating the tradition of the Namehage: young men who dress up in costumes once a year and terrify the children into behaving themselves! A fantastic parental aid.

Actually the kids seemed pretty well-behaved. Look at these packs lined up so neatly in a day care center for small children.

We visited an agricultural co-op. This worker is 70 years old.

Fava beans, ready to be shipped, at my feet. So tidy.

At a hillside Shinto shrine in the countryside
Every bundle is a thousand cranes.

Also at the shrine
Shintoism is the indigenous religion of Japan. It honors elements of the natural world, so you may see prayers and pictures left on carefully-arranged rocks.

Stone sculptures honoring the dead
Shrines and temples in Japan are just so beautiful. It was hard to stop photographing them.

I will leave you with this image of a manhole cover in Odate, Akita Prefecture. This town is the birthplace of Hatchiko, the dog whose traits of patience and loyalty have made him an icon of the Japanese identity. I think that's enough for now, more on Hatchiko later?


  1. just beautiful scenes of this culture and area. sad that they are facing the aging of their society as we are, too. :)

  2. So much more interesting to connect with real people and not be on a typical tourists' trip

  3. Really fascinating! I'm kind of surprised that the aging population is treated that way. I always thought they revered their elders. Gosh, there's a world-wide epidemic I suppose. Enjoyed all the glimpses into this ancient culture. Thanks!

  4. twg: The Akita area was beautiful, quite mountainous. In the winter they get tons of snow & people from Tokyo come up to sit in the hot springs. Pretty neat.

    ER: Yeah, that's right. I don't think I could join a regular tour. It was good to have a purpose & to be with townspeople.

    Gail: It was a surprise to me as well. But the fact that the government is very concerned about this modern phenomenon is a good thing. They have poured a lot of money into revitalization grants to benefit the aging population.

  5. ok. this is already amazing.
    1. this is probably obvious, but the akita breed? from Akita? that's what it looks like on the manhole cover - is that right?
    2. the pictures are all so great, but my favorites are the carp and the tools.
    3. i am a compulsive rock collector. visiting japan may be difficult for me. i am sure it is all kinds of bad luck to collect one of those stones...
    4. i want one of those backpacks. why are they SO MUCH COOLER than the ones here??

  6. Wow, what a great trip. I am filled with jealousy.

  7. Slim: Thanks!!
    1.That's right, it's an "akita inu" (Akita dog) but that's not a dumb question. There have been arguments about what is or is not an akita. After WWll there were only 12 of these guys left, and the breed has been split up into factions. Dogs bred in the US are called "American Akita" & their coloration can be quite different from their Japanese ancestors.
    2. The carp fascinate me even though they're kind of disgusting. Those mouths! I'm glad you like them!
    3. I love to toss rocks in my pocket too, but this time I didn't: really really not a good thing to do at the shrine! I would've been tossed off the bus! Or under it!
    4. I am SO glad you noticed the packs! They were so colorful, and most of them had little charms and geegaws hanging off of them. And they always looked brand new.

    Laoch: I bet you have traveled in Japan yourself. I wonder where.

  8. So fascinating to see other cultures through your lens. The backpacks and tools caught my eye but the Shrines are just amazing. I would be able to stop shooting, I'm sure. I'm glad your snapping finger was in high gear.

  9. I haven't been there. I was supposed to go a couple of years ago and then got sick. :-(

    It is on of my list, still, of cool places I must go someday. Looking forward to the rest of your trip report. You should do a post on the food you had there.

  10. I love every one of these but certain of them really touch me...the stones, the shrines on the hillside graves, the shoes lined up, the thousand crane bundles, the stone sculptures, the 70 year old still working.

  11. Hilary: Japan is a photogenic place for sure. Just wait until you see some of John's pics. He has a high quality Nikon and a good eye & soon I will load his pics onto my computer, and of course he's given me permission to share. My camera is a Canon and I love it, but being a pocket camera it can't achieve what John's can.

    Laoch: What a disappointment that must have been: planning a trip to Japan only to have to cancel. I sure hope you get another chance. I will have to write something about the food; it was a big adventure all by itself.

    Ellen: Thank you for your words. I used to keep short written diaries of trips, but it works better for me now to just photograph things. And sometimes the small details of what I see are more meaningful to me than the bigger picture.

  12. Every picture is fabulous, even the carp but I especially love the fava beans and your feet.

    Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

  13. I've really enjoyed the two posts I've looked at because I must say that most of what I know about Japan, I've learned from reading about WWII in the Pacific, and, by god, that ain't pretty like your photos. The bushido mentality made the Japanese soldiers seem like demons to the Americans. Anyway, I love fish, and I love neatness and order, so I would feel at home in Japan in some ways. I really enjoyed your posts, the words and the photos.

  14. P.S. I thought the carp were pretty. There was nothing "monstrous" about them to me.

  15. Reya: If my shoes were green they would look like fava beans lined up just so.

    Snow: It's true that American soldiers came back with a horrific image of the Japanese warrior. The samurai history probably still informs much of what is contemporary Japan; I don't know that, just surmising it. But there seems to be great shame and sadness over WWll; this is not a part of their history that they wish to glorify.

    Thanks for liking the carp. I actually like them too, but in a fascinated-in-weird-looking creatures kind of way. Those mouths are crazy, and the fish are such beggars.


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