Shaken, but always majestic


The view from a hike on Komagatake in Akita Prefecture

The view from a hike on Komagatake in Akita Prefecture

One of my regrets from the two years I lived in Japan was that I didn’t get outdoors enough. While teaching English on the JET Program, I stayed in a small city called Yuzawa, located in southernmost Akita Prefecture and nestled in a peaceful countryside of profound natural beauty. I’ve never lived in a place so off the beaten track before, and probably never will again.

To an extent, I did manage to take advantage of the unique environment, mainly by getting out to the Tohoku region’s numerous ski lifts in a mildly successful campaign to learn how to snowboard. Yet all too often I sat around my stuffy apartment, watching a baseball game or sumo match on television when I could have been biking around the neighboring rice paddies or romping through the nearby foothills.

My shame at having wasted that liberty feels especially strong right now, at a time when so many people in northern Japan have been ordered to stay inside for fear of radiation exposure from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

It’s all relative, though — these people may be confined to their own homes, but at least they have homes. The devasting March 11 earthquake and ensuing tsunami which wreaked havoc at the plant have also forced nearly half a million people into public shelters, many of their residences toppled or swept away. Tohoku is a scenic area, but it’s far from temperate, and in the chill of early March, a stuffy apartment would feel quite welcoming.

Regardless of where they may find themselves, I wouldn’t expect anyone affected by this cataclysmic disaster to feel any great affinity toward nature at this particular moment. But then again, I believe many of Tohoku’s inhabitants will nonetheless always appreciate the majesty and the grace of their surroundings.

I’m posting a couple of photos from trips I took with the mountaineering club at Yuzawa Senior High School as a meager tribute to the region, and to those former coworkers of mine who knew there was something special awaiting them if they would just walk out the front door.

It appears that Yuzawa will emerge from this ordeal relatively unscathed, but my thoughts are with those who live there and in the rest of the Tohoku region.

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