#01 Why Akita? vol.1

 

series WHY U GO LOCAL?

 

Out of 47 prefectural districts in Japan, Akita became the second most searched name worldwide after Tokyo, thanks to the viralness of Akita dogs(*1). Few people, however, know that Akita is identical to the name of the most depopulating prefecture all over Japan(*2). Lying at the head of the Honshu main island, Akita is well known for its heavy snowfall and depressingly cloudy weather. For most of the decade, it even was the title holder for having the highest suicide rate all over Japan(*3). Well, the place is relatively well known for Akita bijin, the beautiful girls with pale white skin, or namahage, an indigenous animistic spirit that yearly visits the villages to frighten the children. The land is rich with tasty rice (Akita komachi rice), great sake (rice wine) and onsen (hot spring). Still, with all these attractions, Akita is often regarded as a representative of countrysides or a place in the middle of nowhere (do-inaka). So, when I told my high school friends that I’m going to study in Akita, the natural question they all shared was “why on earth?”

 

A birds-eye view of Ugo town in February. Known as one of the most heavily snowing regions in Japan, it could reach as high as 3 meters. It's easy to call them beautiful, much more difficult to live with them, the locals say.

 

The single biggest reason for my decision was my encounter with Akita International University. Established in 2004 as an American style public liberal arts college, the founder Mr. Mineo Nakajima created a unique curriculum to grow competitive students in the globalizing society. A mandatory 1 year study abroad, small sized classrooms, and an interdisciplinary program to satisfy various curiosities, a dormitory life with international students in the middle of nowhere, … I stood there in the career guidance room of my high school, where I was shopping for universities that did not require nonsense cramming competition called exam war (at least it appeared to me when I was 17), and the moment I opened AIU’s leaflet, I thought “this is it”. Since then, I pushed myself into a severe training of essay writing and interviewing, fortunately resulting in my freshmen year in 2011, right after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku.

 

For me, there was nothing extraordinary in this flow of decision, except the fact that I was super lucky to find my destined school right before the entrance exam has started. Choosing AIU was not a mere result of comparing conditions and offerings of each college, but based on something more instinctive, more about feelings and meanings. It might not have been a rational choice, but rather a narrative one. The moment I found its name among tons of files of other universities, it appeared to me as a beautiful box without contents. It was me who had to fill in that box to make it something that weighs in my life, whatever that would become. However, many of my friends were surprised by the simple fact that I choose a random countryside as my study destination. I spent my adolescent life in Osaka, from the age of 9 until 18, and for the majority of my classmates, the first choice was “Osaka/Kyoto/Kobe region”, the second “Kansai area”, and the third “Tokyo area”. Within these three choices, each of the students chose either public or private, national or municipal, specialized or mammoth universities, in order to meet each individual’s tastes and characteristics. There was this big measure of “normal”, and people tried to align themselves according to that normality with a spice of individual uniqueness. This “measure of normality”, or “superiority” in other words, is the thing that I see as lying in the opposite of “locality”, or “going local”. For me, it was more about finding the right path for me within the diversity. Being superior, and being diverse. Or, being superior in its own diverse way. There are many measures you can apply to a single instance.

 

(next article on Wed. 10th July)

 

References:

  • *1: The Japan Times. Akita ranks 2nd for Japan prefecture searches abroad thanks to dog breed. November 28, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/11/27/national/akita-ranks-2nd-japan-prefecture-searches-abroad-thanks-dog-breed/
  • *2: Akita prefecture. Summary of demographic statistics for 2017 in Akita. Retrieved from: https://www.pref.akita.lg.jp/uploads/public/archive_0000034806_00/01H29%E4%BA%BA%E5%8F%A3%E5%8B%95%E6%85%8B%E7%B5%B1%E8%A8%88%E3%81%AE%E6%A6%82%E6%B3%81%EF%BC%88%E6%A6%82%E6%95%B0%EF%BC%89_.pdf
  • *3: Akita prefecture. The situation of suicide in Akita. October 4, 2018. https://www.pref.akita.lg.jp/pages/archive/1196
  • Akita International University. https://web.aiu.ac.jp/en