Living in Japan as an International student has its own advantages – we often get invited by the local government’s to visit towns on a ‘monitor tour’, sometimes we get to teach English to high school students, we get heaps of opportunity to experience unique services & facilities being introduced for the first time AND also get invitations to join musicals & concerts.
This time, we signed up for a tour organized by Miyagi Prefecture to promote tourism and international exchange among international students. Since parts of this prefecture suffered damage & loss of many lives during the Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami, they are trying their best to promote their cities which are progressing toward recovery.
Watari is a small town in Miyagi prefecture which was severely damaged by Tsunami in 2011. This town is apparently famous for its strawberries. As we arrived at Watari, staff of the town welcomed us in perfect English! It is rare to attend a program here in Japan, where almost everyone can communicate in English, so it was quite a pleasant surprise.
After the initial greetings and chitchat, we were taken to Chiba Apple Farm. For someone like me who absolutely adores gardening & nature, this was a paradise! We were informed that the apples were of the famous “Fuji” species.
Planted some 30 years ago, these trees are said to be disinfected 12 times in a year. The fruits get juicier and sweeter by the end of December. One interesting fact learnt was that the annual apple consumption per person was 5kg in Japan! I thought those were some pretty high statistics until I learned that Italians consume five times higher than the Japanese!
We were given a host family for the day to show us around. Ours was Mr Iinuma-san, the executive of Watari International Association. He and his assistant Mr Takano took us to a beautiful Shrine called Shomyoji. The beautiful autumn red leaves with 6 jizou-san bstatues welcomed us at the entrance. Inside was a temple with a zen garden, a lotus pond and an extended cemetery. We also saw a huge statue of sleeping Buddha.
According to our guides, some hundred years ago a person found a lotus seed, planted it and distributed it to different shrines. It is said that this particular shrine also received a lotus sapling and planted it here. In summer, this place boasts of beautiful lotus symbolizing tranquility and peace.
Our host also showed us around the station. Watari station had a castle-like structure, inside of which was a nice library! I was excited just at the thought of reading in the library while waiting for the train. Why can’t we have libraries around the bus stops in Nepal? I remembered my beloved AWON library at Thapathali and realized the stark difference between the two.
We were offered lunch at Iinuma san’s house. The house was cosy with pictures, family altar, interesting portraits and books. Conversations were made about relationships between India and Nepal (since we also had an Indian gentleman joining us), food, festivals and disasters.
After lunch, we were taken to the disaster-affected areas and a small strawberry farm managed by a local ojichan.
Overall it was a wonderful day. If you want a nice escape around the not-so-crowded town area, Watari would be one of my recommendations! It might be easier if you rent a car though. I would definitely like to pay a visit to Watari again during the lotus bloom season!