I have been missing for quite a while but I assure you it was unintentional. The last few weeks have been busy and of course – I’m going to share every moment with you. From rice harvesting to fireworks festivals, I have been doing it all. Today I’m going to write about harvesting and the school festival. Two more events will be covered in my next post.
Rice Harvesting at Takinomata
So to pick up from where I left off, on the 24th of September I went rice harvesting. One of Akita’s main industries is rice farming, so I was determined to do this at least once. This opportunity was made possible by Team TAKINOMATA, a club on campus that organizes and facilitates connections between the local people of Akita and AIU students. A group of about 15 students attended. We were provided with a bus, boots, and the proper tools. We drove about 45 minutes to Takinomata, which is near Yurihonjo City, and got to work almost immediately. The local farmers provided us with small sickles and showed us the ropes. We worked for about three hours while having our photos taken for upcoming newspaper publications.
Afterwards we went back to the community hall and helped prepare a meal with the locals. The president of the local committee and his board sat with us as we enjoyed the fruits of our labor, which included rice, miso soup, and pickled vegetables.
This experience was worth its weight in gold. I learned about an important part of Akita’s culture, while being able to talk to the local farmers themselves. During our meal, we all introduced ourselves and exchanged stories and experiences. The farmers of Takinomata are very proud of their work, and it shows. AIU’s relationship with Takinomata is an old one; in the spring students help with the rice planting and in the fall they help with harvesting. The farmers of Takinomata then sell this rice at the AIU school festival and hold a Thanksgiving-like celebration later in November for the local community and AIU students – which I will be attending, so look forward to hearing about that.
Next up: the school festival.
AIU School Festival
AIU’s annual school festival usually brings over 5,000 people onto campus from all over Japan. This year exactly 3,099 guests visited campus, partially due to a portion of the school grounds being closed for renovations. I was still overwhelmed. This two day event was comprised of over 30 food stands and wide variety of merchants selling their wares and goods. On the main stage, there were back to back performances from different clubs; from singing groups to martial arts demonstrations. Meanwhile in each available building there were a variety of attractions: a haunted house, a game area for kids, and exhibits – all hosted by different clubs.
The Diversity Club, of which I am a member, decided to do two exhibits: one on body positivity and another on LGBT History in Japan, with a concentration on the Showa Era, as it was the theme of the festival this year. We also held two workshops. One was on the general ‘What is LGBT?’ which educated our audience on what exactly the LGBT community is and how they are relevant in today’s society. The other, titled ‘What is Genderless?’ aimed to educate our audience about non-binary and agender individuals, by discussing the nuances of sexuality and gender identity.
It didn’t surprise me that people were genuinely clueless as to what the acronym ‘LGBT’ stood for, let alone what each word meant. I’ve noticed that Japanese people tend to be apathetic towards matters that do not concern them directly, such as politics or other social minorities. What did surprise me was how many parents attended our workshops with their children. Some of them had wandered in out of curiosity and some were brought in by their wayward children running towards bright colors. Inexplicably though, they stayed. They listened. They asked questions. I couldn’t help but think of how different the reactions of parents would have been, to this type of workshop, back home.
At then end of the first day of the school festival, we hardworking students were treated to hot cocoa and a special bonfire. At the end of the second day, there was a fireworks show and a special night time Kanto performance.
Every day I am so glad I came to Akita. The generosity of local communities and AIU, make it possible to explore so many different aspects of Japanese culture, that every weekend is a new adventure.
Well, until next time!