AIU does something that I wish every university, college, and high school did: they organized field trips. Who doesn’t love a good field trip? Why don’t teachers do this more often? Because AIU was so invested in the international experience, part of our tuition money went towards bus trips during which the school took you to various tourist locations in Akita prefecture. Unfortunately for us, these outings, which were usually numerous, had either been cancelled or squished down to a meager two trips. This was due to fear of the frequent aftershocks from the big earthquake. Still, each trip was filled to the brim with fun, and although they were much too short, I was grateful to be on them at all.
The first trip consisted of three parts. The first of those parts was a visit to a Shinto shrine near a staggeringly beautiful river fed by a roaring waterfall. This excursion was the first thing I had really “seen” in Japan, and it left me with a sublime feeling I have yet to encounter since. The day was starting out perfect, with the first sunny, blue sky since we had landed. When the bus pulled up, we were all let out and set free to roam and explore. Before us lay a stretch of grasses, leading up to a mostly obscured river between two wooded hills, crossed by a bright red suspension bridge. Although the landscape was touched here and there with splashes of bright green, over all the colors were muted browns and pine greens, for it was still early spring. Northern Japan, like Colorado, wakes from winter slowly. Most people headed for the most noticeable landmark, an island-like precipice rising from the bank, topped by a few trees and a shrine marker. Justin and I made our way to the main shrine, into the pine trees toward a trail that wound up the side of the hills.
It may seem strange that such an uneventful experience could be among my most favorite memories of Japan. After all, we didn’t really do much at this river. But the scene was so picturesque, the shrine was so peaceful, and the waterfall was so amazing, that it has come to embody the essential beauty of Japan in my heart. Although I do not practice Shinto, I can understand why one would find such a perfect place worth worshiping.
Edit: I did a little digging and apparently this river is the Tamagawa, or the Tama River. Now you can add it to your list if you ever visit Akita, Japan!