Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Many Faces of Akita (Ari)

When I first arrived in the Akita Prefecture, I ended up staying with my parents by Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in all of Japan. It was quite beautiful, as it was nestled amongst the green mountains dotted with hot springs, and neighbored a historical Samurai village, Kakunodate. Of course I was bewitched by this place’s renowned natural and historical beauty, but what caught my attention in particular was the mascots. Everywhere I looked, I could find chibi art of Namahage and Akita Inus, so I simply assumed that these were the prefectural mascots. 

The most adorable mountain god to ever terrify children.
I really believe that this should be the mascot--I mean, the dog breed even has "Akita" in its name.
However, prefectures generally only have one official mascot, so I decided to research which was the official one and discovered that it was a. . . Cedar tree? 

The actual mascot.
As one can imagine, I was sorely disappointed. I suppose it makes sense, though. Cedar trees are everywhere here.

This was my first step in understanding what Akita is all about. A few days ago, I passed by the Akita prefectural hall to find a large sign above the building that had “nda” scribbled across it like splatters of paint, and I could help but giggle at the sight. Akita is infamous for its thick, unintelligible dialect -- a dialect so impossible to understand that even native Japanese speakers cannot understand it. I first experienced this when an old woman was asking for my help (I think) at a bus station about a week ago. If you have ever seen Finding Nemo, when Squirt tries to instruct Marlin and Dory, and Marlin says, in a sort of anxious confusion, “He’s trying to speak to me -- I know it!”, then you probably understand what I experienced. Of course I wanted to assist this poor little old woman, but first I had to decipher through her peculiar Japanese code to understand what she wanted. I still feel guilty. But I suppose that is why Akita’s dialect is the butt of everyone’s jokes -- it is nice that even the prefectural hall can take the time to laugh at itself.

But even with all of its natural beauty, its scrumptious rice, and its amusingly enigmatic dialect, I have found that what I love the most about Akita is its people. While I was in Tokyo, I often was given demonizing stares and treated as a burden. But here in Akita, I am treated as a welcomed guest. Here, people will help you if you are lost, and you do not have to feel embarrassed asking a stranger a question like I have felt elsewhere. People here are kind and forgiving. They treat me like I am human, and I am extremely grateful for it.
Bonus picture: Namahage night mask, because prefectural pride is important.


Reid said...

So it seems the official mascot is not the type of mascot you were...pine-ing for *ba dum tiss*

But in all seriousness, I still have no idea which of the Shiki mascots is official. Maybe all of them are, maybe none of them... the most famous Yuru Chara, Funnasyi, technically isn't even official in his home city, so I would imagine even people from Akita might think the Namahage or Akita Inu was the official mascot as well.

Jeremy Sullivan said...

You mentioned that 秋田弁 is seen as the butt of everyone's jokes. Have you actually heard any jokes about the dialect or other Japanese peoples' direct opinions about it? Did you ask for others' opinions, or was the wording simply your own perception?

Sasha said...

I was also curious about Suggichi (the tree). For being an official mascot, I have not really seen it around in our part of Akita, and I only learned of its existence through google as well... Recently, I realized that there is a sign in the library that has Sugicchi on it, but that's about it.

David Whitacre said...

Jeremy's post got me wondering, so I asked my wife, who is Japanese from Shizuoka prefecture. When I asked about 秋田弁 (Akitaben), she said that the dialect from the whole 東北 (Tohoku) region can be very difficult to undrestand. When visiting, her aunt had to translate some very simple things. When I tried to understand whether 秋田弁 is indeed the butt of many jokes, she would not render an opinion, but said that the dialect is generally described as 田舎(inaka), which has the meaning of rural or "country bumpkin-ish" (my own translation). While this is not exactly the same as being the butt of all jokes, the sentiment is similar, being part of that general phenomenon of big city-dwellers feeling kind of special compared to those outside their metropolis, and especially compared to those in "the sticks". Anyway, very interesting post and thought-provoking comments.