By Scarlet Prentice / Special to The Japan News My name is Scarlet Prentice. I am a native of the commuter belt of London in the United Kingdom, and I began my second year on the JET Programme this past August as an Assistant Language Teacher for the Akiota Town Board of Education in Hiroshima Prefecture.Speech“Does your country have four seasons?” is not an uncommon question in Japan. Initially I would offendedly scoff, “Of course!” But in fairness, many countries don’t. Whilst my own beloved England has four seasons, the British way of life does not seem rooted in them to the same extent as Japanese culture. Indeed, the seasons were something I had taken for granted before, finding myself waiting haplessly for leaves to turn and fall whilst on exchange in Hong Kong.
Now I live in Akiota, a truly beautiful town in the northwestern mountains of Hiroshima Prefecture. Accessible by bus from Hiroshima city, the area is best navigated by car. Arriving in summer to sweltering heat, I began the habit of jogging (very slowly) through the long green paddies by the Otagawa river and cooling off in the local open-air swimming pool after work, sealed away in our tree-lined valley. Autumn turned us golden as visitors flocked to our 1,000-year-old gingko tree. I watched from the school window as the leaves turned and left with the breeze.
Then I found myself awakening early to dig a path with my neighbouring teachers as the snow had come. Summer’s dark mountain tunnels became well-lit relief on the icy roads. Hokkaido may well be better known for its winter’s world-class powder, but my novice skills were put to the test every weekend at our pick of nearby ski resorts. Come spring the snowmelt was not entirely unwelcome after I had spent my fair share of time under the kotatsu.
Sakura became a flavour for me with the appearance of the beloved cherry blossoms. Above the streets and river paths, our mountains turned “matcha green” and freckled pink like cherries on a tree. Persimmon trees were fenced off to protect their fruit from awakening bears and hungry monkeys. But then the flowers fell, hanami parties closed for the year, and a new surprise arrived with the flooding of the paddies: frogs!
Warm evenings spent outside and nights with the windows open were chorused by the little creatures, air heavy with ripe strawberries. Fireflies drifted between the forest and riverbanks before bed on clear days in June. This year’s heavy rain came, but we were fortunate not to have been negatively affected in our town.
After the rain, the frog chorus was replaced by loud cicadas. Shaved ice signs appeared again alongside fireworks posters as my year in Japan reached full circle, the rice growing to the heights of summers past. Upon reflection I have gained an increased appreciation of the seasons’ mark on the passage of time, finding myself reminded of the influence they had on my decision to stay for another look.Speech