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Tokyo Fireworks August 17, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo Fireworks” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-tE

Summertime in Tokyo is a time when you can go to many different festivals.  The usual summer festivals with various food stalls selling okonomiyaki and yakisoba exist, and there is a lot of dancing that happens at these festivals.  The most popular annual festival has to be the fireworks festivals.  These are held weekly starting in the last weekend of July.  There are several famous fireworks festivals in Tokyo.  These include the Sumida River Fireworks (last weekend in July); the Edogawa Fireworks (first weekend in August); Tokyo Bay Fireworks (second weekend in August); and the Meiji Jingu Fireworks (end of August).  Of course, there are several more in and around Tokyo, but these are the biggest festivals.  If you are in Tokyo at that time, and have a day to spare, it’s a good idea if you can make it to one of these fireworks festivals.  If you can’t, I wouldn’t worry too much as you can see video of this at various places on the internet, especially on YouTube.

Coming from Vancouver, I have a very different idea of what a fireworks festival should be.  I am very biased in how things look after growing up enjoying the Symphony of Fire, now the Celebration of Light, in Vancouver.  The Vancouver festival lasts four nights over the course of two weeks and it is actually a competition among various companies from around the world.  They are scored on five basic criteria:

  • General Concept – presentation, structure and scale of display
  • Colour – choice and variety of colours
  • Originality – design and architecture
  • Quality of Production – rhythm of fireworks, volume of effects and quality of construction
  • Correlation of Music – choice of music, synchronization of effects, adaptation of moods

This festival has been going on since 1995 and I have grown to become extremely critical of the types of fireworks used, how it’s used, and the use of music within a fireworks display.  Needless to say, fireworks festivals are no longer as “enjoyable” as used to be.

In Japan, fireworks festivals are not about a competition.  It’s about impressing people with various fireworks, including the use of a large amount of fireworks to impress the crowds.  I have seen a couple of fireworks displays around Tokyo since I first came here.  The first time I saw the fireworks was in Atami several years ago.  Atami is a beach resort that is famous for its onsen. Recently, I have had the pleasure to go to the Edogawa Fireworks festival.  The atmosphere in Japan is extremely different compared to Vancouver.  The first thing you have to realize is that the festival is very calm and relaxed.  If you go to a festival in the city, such as the Sumida River Fireworks, you should expect to see people all over the place.  Since there is limited park space near the fireworks, it’s customary to see people set up their “camp” on local streets and just wait there for several hours.  My friend John, owner and star of Weblish was kind enough to spend a lot of time reserving a huge area in a park next to the fireworks.  We had what was one of the best seats in the city.  If you do go to a fireworks festival, and you do find a way into a nearby park, expect to see a sea of blue tarps on the ground.  It’s customary for Japanese people to rush into a site when it’s opened up and set up these tarps to reserve their area.  You can usually set up shop up to a day or so in advance, but it depends on which festival you are attending, and the rules for the year.  The second thing to note is that by the mid afternoon, people start to flood into the area.  This is a festival, and like any festival, people like to make it a big event.

When you get a spot to watch the fireworks, the next thing to do is relax.  It’s a great time to be with friends and enjoy the conversations.  To be prepared, bring lots of food and lots of drinks.  The great thing about Japan is that you can drink in public.  It’s necessary to bring enough alcohol to keep yourself happy up to and including the fireworks.  Bring enough snacks so that you won’t be starving after the fireworks.  The only question is where to use the washroom.  Like any public event, expect lines to use the washroom.  I had the unfortunate event of needing the washroom about halfway through the fireworks, and had to wait a bit to use it after the fireworks.  It wasn’t bad, but it’s not something that I’d feel comfortable doing again, if I could help it.

As I mentioned, fireworks in Japan are all about amazing the crowd.  They usually start with a countdown, if you are near a speaker, followed by a large display of fireworks.  They tend to go in a 10 minute loop.  There are a few minutes of spectacular fireworks that light up the sky followed by several minutes of smaller fireworks.  They tend to go one after another rather than several at the same time.  I believe this is done to allow the smoke to dissipate for the next round of large fireworks.  This entire process is repeated for just over an hour. If you are worried about catching a train to escape the area, you should think about leaving 10 minutes, or earlier, from the area.  If you wait till the end, you could be waiting for over an hour to just get to the station platform before you can wait for a train.  Needless to say, the trains are packed as badly as the morning rush.  If you don’t want to wait in line, chill out at your spot for at least 30 minutes, and then try to find a place nearby that you can just hang out and spend money for a couple hours.  If you are lucky, you’ll have a friend who lives nearby and you can just hang out there until the trains aren’t too busy.  The fireworks ended at around 8:30pm, and I left my friend’s house around 11pm.  The train was still packed as if it was the morning rush hour, but at least the station platform wasn’t that busy.

Comparing fireworks in Japan to fireworks in Vancouver is not an easy thing to do.  Vancouver is a beautiful display that is timed to music which makes it more art that spectacular.  In Japan, it’s the opposite. It’s all about impressing the crowds with images such as famous Japanese characters, and also to have the largest size of fireworks possible.  I’m not sure which is best, but both have their merits.  In Vancouver, everything feels different.  In Japan, with alcohol, things just feel like a party.  I can’t truly explain the difference.  You must go and enjoy the show to understand the difference, but it’s something that must be done if you have the chance to experience it.

Fireworks Information:

Vancouver’s Celebration of Light (Official Site): http://www.celebration-of-light.com/
Vancouver’s Celebration of Light (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celebration_of_Light

Tokyo Fireworks Schedule (Jalan – Note: May not be accurate past 2010 events):http://www.jalan.net/jalan/doc/theme/hanabi/13.html
Sumida River Fireworks (English): http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/index_eg.html
Sumida River Fireworks (Japanese): http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/index.html
Edogawa Fireworks (Japanese): http://www.city.edogawa.tokyo.jp/chi…event/hanabi8/
Tokyo Bay Fireworks (Japanese): http://www.city.chuo.lg.jp/ivent/tou…anabisaimeinn/
Jingu Fireworks (Japanese): http://jinguhanabi.nikkansports.com/

Weblish:  http://weblish.co.jp/

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Route 197 & 320 (Kochi to Ozu, via Uwajima) June 30, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Route 197 & 320 (Kochi to Ozu, via Uwajima)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-c5

There are two routes to reach the west coast of Shikoku, from Kochi.  The most famous is to take route 56, a continuation of route 55, from Kochi all the way to Matsuyama.  The other less travelled route is to cut across the island and take route 197 and reconnect to route 56.  To reach Matsuyama in one day, you will probably have to cut across the southern cape, or else you would have to skip a lot of places.  Travelling along route 197 is a very nice trip.  This road cuts through the mountains allowing you to see very small villages along the way.  There are a few places selling local fruits and food, but other than that, there isn’t much to see.  When route 197 reaches 320, you will be in the town of Kihoku.  It is a town that is very easy to miss, but I was lucky to arrive during a small festival.  There were typical festival foods, but only a little.  It is a great way to see how small town Japan lives.  It isn’t that special and easy to see in a few minutes.  Route 320 is also the same, cutting through the mountains until you reach Uwajima.  Uwajima is a small city that, like most cities in Shikoku, has its own castle.  It is also slightly infamous for its own temple devoted to the phallus.  I didn’t spend any time in this city, so unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is anything of interest here.

Ozu is a very small city that normally has nothing of interest.  The downtown area closes very early, and there are very few shops left.  It is a victim of big box shops coming in and strangling the mom and pop businesses.  Driving down the main shopping street feels like a ghost town.  Shutters are closed and very few people are around.  While this is true, the town itself is very beautiful.  If you are looking for something to do from Matsuyama, Ozu is a great place for a day trip.  However, heading to Uchiko, or Uwajima is probably easier.  Even the hotel staff in Ozu can’t really speak English, however they are still helpful.

Ozu has a few things of interest, and almost all of them are easy to reach on foot.  The first thing to see is the river.  There is a pedestrian walkway along the river.  There are usually a bunch of families and students out on the water enjoying themselves on the weekends.  The river walk will take you to the back entrance of Ozu-jo.  As I said, Shikoku has many castles.  This castle is even smaller than Kochi, but the castle grounds are wonderful.  You can see the biggest water well in Japan, or so they say, and some huge trees next to the castle.  There is a beautiful garden and a nice grassy area to relax on.  All of this is free, however, entrance into the castle itself isn’t.  If you are backpacking, there is a youth hostel behind the castle that looked very nice.  I would have stayed here, but I didn’t know it existed.

Route 56 cuts through the middle of Ozu.  The castle is located on one side, and the old town is located on the other.  The old town has many activities that any other small Japanese town has.  It is also an area where you can see the old style of Japanese homes.  This is very similar to Naramachi in Nara, but not as grand.  They also have a large red brick building, but unfortunately, when I arrived, it was after 5pm and everything was closed.  From anywhere in Ozu, you can see Mount Tomisu.  It is a small mountain that overlooks the town.  It is very beautiful as there is a large garden at the top.  It was highly recommended to me by the hotel staff, but you do have to drive there.  Ozu is not a friendly place if you don’t have a great map, or navigation.  It’s easy to get turned around and lost.  However, I would definitely recommend visiting this city, as almost any other city I have been to in Shikoku.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Tokyo (Azabu-Juban) May 19, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Azabu-Juban)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-8w

Azabu-Juban (Azabu) is not a place you would normally want to visit. It’s generally an upscale residential neighbourhood. It is an area that is immediately next to Roppongi that has many festivals and activities all year round. If you are a resident of Tokyo, Azabu is a very good place to visit during the day and enjoy a nice coffee and a little shopping. There are only a few main streets in Azabu, and they are lined with shops. In the middle is a small park where you can relax on most days. The far end of Azabu is actually Roppongi Hills, so walking from Azabu station to Roppongi station is a very nice way to spend a day. You are guaranteed to see many interesting things that are unique to Azabu. Azabu, as it’s next to Roppongi, is also a hub for foreign embassies, just like Roppongi and Hiroo.

The main reason I’m writing about Azabu is because of the Matsuri. Matsuri is literally translated into English as “festival”. Every year, in the heat of summer, Azabu is transformed for one weekend. It becomes an extremely busy place where people gather. The station is situated close to a highway and canal, and this is the best starting place if you visit the festival. This area traditionally has the most open space with many food stalls selling foreign foods. You can sample food from almost all over the world. There are very few places to actually eat, but if you don’t mind standing or sitting on the street, you won’t have any problems. There is also a nice set of fountains that make for good picture opportunities. One warning though, being the summer festival, you’ll have a tough time getting that perfect shot. You’ll have to do a hit and run. Another warning is to be patient. Often, each stall has a long line-up. The workers can barely keep up with the demand. Be patient and you’ll be able to eat a lot of different foods.

The main attraction has to be the regular festival stalls. If you have never been to a Japanese festival, this is the best one to see. You’ll see all of the regular foods and games that can be played. Starting with the food, there are plenty of places you can get good Japanese fare. The most popular food must be yakisoba. For 500-700 Yen, you can get a small box full of fried buckwheat noodles in a teriyaki sauce. If you call it teriyaki in Japan, people will probably look at you a little funny. They just call it sauce and it’s very easy to find, but it’s never labelled “teriyaki”. The other major food to eat is okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a traditional Osakan food. Some will call it a pancake, and others a pizza. I generally choose a pizza. The basic okonomiyaki is cabbage and batter with “sauce”, Japanese mayonnaise, and dried green onions on top. Often they add eggs, bacon, and anything else they can add. Okonomiyaki is literally translated into “as you like it”, so there isn’t any set recipe. You will find that kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, and the Nara area) food is very popular at any festival.

Takoyaki is the other essential food. This is similar to okonomiyaki, but without the cabbage, and instead of a pizza, it’s a ball. Be warned, takoyaki is EXTREMELY hot. While the outer crust of the ball is cool, the inside is still very hot. Tako is octopus in Japanese, and you’ll always find a large piece of octopus in the middle. Some places outside Japan make takoyaki, but they don’t always put a big piece of octopus in the middle. It makes a BIG difference. Other than that, you can get grilled fish and squid, and anything else that can be cooked on an open fire or flat grill. For desert, you usually have only two choices. Chocolate dipped bananas or kakikori (Japanese style snow cone). If you are thirsty, you can buy soft drinks, or beer. Yes, they have beer. Unlike Canada and America, you can actually drink in public. The price of beer is a little expensive, but you can get any brand you wish. If you need to save money, there are a few convenience stores in Azabu and beer is regular price.

Games are also part of the festival. Generally, the most famous game is a fishing game. You don’t get a fishing rod, or even a fishing line. You get a kind of “net” that is made of rice paper. It looks like a paddle, and it’s very fragile. After one or two tries, it will break and you have to stop. You generally pay for a few paddles and you try to scoop small goldfish into a bowl. Whatever you catch, you can keep. The festival also sells a few goods that are popular as souvenirs. If you aren’t interested in the games, the park is an excellent place to visit. At night, they start the bon odori. This is a traditional Japanese folk dance. They usually have a big taiko drum that is played by various people while music is played over a speaker system. People form a big circle and start dancing. It looks very much like line dancing, but in a large circle, and each dance tells a story. Don’t worry if you don’t know the moves. You can easily learn them by watching them. If you don’t know, one of the older ladies are usually happy to teach you. Many Japanese people don’t even know some of the dances, so don’t be afraid.

If you are in Tokyo during the Azabu-juban Matsuri, I highly recommend that you go to this festival. It’s probably one of the best in Tokyo. There are other festivals held throughout the summer and into late September, but this is one of the biggest. You’ll be able to see all of the other smaller festivals in one place. Make sure you are prepared for the heat, and buy lots of beer.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part III) May 12, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part III)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-an

Note:  Any and all descriptions of sculptures and activities are for 2009.  The sculptures are guaranteed to change, and some of the activities may also change.  It’s best to check just prior to going.

10-chome saw a return of large sculptures.  The first was a medium sized zoo.  It featured various animals that could be seen in Asahikawa.  They called it the Snow Festival Zoo, but in reality, it was almost an exact copy of the animals in Asahiyama Zoo.  However, it was a nice sculpture.  The main attraction has to be the Northern Animal Families.  This was sponsored by STV (Sapporo Television).  This sculpture featured three families, the Blakiston’s fish owl; the Steller’s Sea eagle; and the Ito (a type of salmon).  Unfortunately, the bird’s beauty and size overshadowed the fish, and I doubt many people recognized them.  I really enjoyed this sculpture and I feel it was the most beautiful large sculpture of the entire festival.

11-chome and 12-chome could be rolled into one block.  11-chome had an “International Gourmet Corner” and the 36th International Snow Sculpture Contest.  They had 12 entries from 12 countries.  Thailand’s “Garuda and Naga” won the competition with Lithuania’s “GLOVE” coming in second.  I agree with the winner being “Garuda and Naga”, however, I didn’t like “GLOVE”, but it was artistically pleasing compared to the others.  In 12-chome, you will be able to see various different sculptures made by volunteers and locals alike.  They tend to be simple and feature a lot of characters that are well known in Japan.  By the time you reach this area, you will be tired of sculptures and in need of a break.  I would, however, advise against going to this area at night as there aren’t enough lights to truly show these sculptures.

After you finish with Odori Park, Sapporo Dome offers something for everyone.  Outside the dome, you can do various activities such as snow rafting and tube slides.  You can also build your own snowman and make your own skis.  There are a few places to get a good beer and food and various other sculptures.  Inside the dome, you can enjoy the Snow Market, eco advertising, and various other corporate booths promoting various things.  I never made it to this area as it’s focused towards families rather than single adults, so I never even thought about heading to this spot.  If you have children, I would definitely recommend this place as it looks like a lot of fun.

The final place to visit during the Snow Festival is the Susukino Ice Festival.  The ice festival is 6 blocks of small ice sculptures.  The entrance had a sculpture of Hokkaido’s famous clock tower.  From there, you will be greeted by various peacocks, angels, and everything you can think of.  Some notable sculptures were a few bars promoting the different Japanese drinks such as Sapporo Classic (beer), and Suntory Whiskey.  While I never visited this site during the day, I’d highly recommend visiting at night as the sculptures look extremely beautiful under the street lights.

My final impression was that this is definitely a festival to visit.  I think it’s beautiful and very impressive.  Aside from the people and the cold, it’s great to go north and see the beautiful snow.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t do everything that I wanted to do.  That’s the problem with visiting and not living in this beautiful city.  If you do go, try to visit the festival, both in the day and at night.  You will see different sides of this festival.  Unfortunately, after a few hours, you will be sick and tired of all the snow sculptures and everything will start to look the same.  Dress very warm and do as much as you can in the short time you have at the festival.

Information:

Sapporo Snow Festival (English): http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/index.html
Sapporo Snow Festival (Japanese): http://www.snowfes.com/
Sapporo Snow Festival (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapporo_Snow_Festival

Note:  Part III of a 3 part series .  (Part I) (Part II)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part II) May 5, 2009

Posted by Dru in Hokkaido, Japan, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
comments closed

Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Sapporo Snow Festival (Part II)” complete with pictures:  http://wp.me/p2liAm-al

Note: Any and all descriptions of sculptures and activities are for 2009.  The sculptures are guaranteed to change, and some of the activities may also change.  It’s best to check just prior to going.

5-chome brought a little ice and eco awareness to the festival.  The first part was an Eco Plaza.  This was essentially a place to put windmills and other eco friendly stalls.  It was easy to forget this section as it was there to promote ways to save money and the environment.  If I could understand Japanese a lot more, I would have enjoyed it.  Unfortunately, it was too difficult at the time, and too cold, to really appreciate it.  The main attraction was the Hakodate Bugyo Chousha.  This is the original government building, located in Hakodate, to govern all of Hokkaido.  It was destroyed but it is currently being rebuilt.  It should be opened in 2010.  The park is well known in Hokkaido.  This sculpture was made out of ice, and lit up with various colours at various times to coincide with special shows.  Unfortunately, they turned off the lights as I was about to start taking pictures.  It was beautiful though, and how a large ice sculpture should look like.

6-chome was a place that I could easily forget.  It was the site of the food park.  One block where all they did was sell nice hot food for the hungry festival goers.  I would avoid this block as a lot of the food didn’t look that good, and I was already full from dinner.

7-chome was the first site of the first non-commercial snow sculpture.  They recreated, to scale, Sungnyemun.  It is the main gate that allowed people to enter Seoul.  Having been originally built over 500 years ago, it was a national treasure.  Unfortunately, an arsonist burned the structure down in 2008 and the wooden structure was destroyed.  The stone foundation was still standing, and thus they will be capable of rebuilding this beautiful structure.  Thankfully, the Korean government did an extensive analysis of the structure prior to it being burned down, so they know how to rebuild it.  Unfortunately, we don’t know when it will be rebuilt, but hopefully it will be sooner than later.  While this is a non-commercial sculpture, it was sponsored by HBC (Hokkaido Broadcasting Company), so their name is featured in all advertising, and below the sculpture itself.  In this day and age, it’s hard to get anything done without sponsorship.

8-chome brought another beautiful sculpture.  Hamamatsu castle, located between Tokyo and Osaka, was recreated.  While it isn’t the most beautiful castle, or the most majestic, it is, as any other castle in Japan, historical.  I can’t help but feel it was recreated because they ran out of other famous historical buildings to recreate.  I will admit that it was more beautiful and more detailed than Sungnyemun.  This one was also sponsored, by HTB (Hokkaido Television).  Behind Hamamatsu Castle, they had a mid sized snowboard ramp.  They had small competitions and demonstrations for people to watch snowboarders in action.  I doubt it was very special.  I find watching a half pipe competition to be more exciting.

9-chome saw a large reduction in the size of the sculptures.  A mid sized sculpture of a train and station was the main attraction.  The only problem was that the station was hard to see, and the train was covered in fresh snow.  I’m sure it could have looked better, but unfortunately, it seemed to have been rushed a little.  Thankfully, the rest of this block was comprised of various other sculptures that were no bigger than 2 metres in height.  Unfortunately, with so many people, it was difficult to take any pictures.  I might suggest going before 10am, as the festival officially opens at 10am.

Information:

Sapporo Snow Festival (English): http://www.snowfes.com/english/place/index.html
Sapporo Snow Festival (Japanese): http://www.snowfes.com/
Sapporo Snow Festival (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapporo_Snow_Festival

Note:  Part II of a 3 part series .  (Part I) (Part III)

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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