Sunday, July 31, 2005

Hanabi rocks!!!

Ok, ok, so hearing that from a native of Ottawa must be pretty shocking for most of you, I know I am quite shocked to be saying it myself. As the seat of Canada's Parliament, Ottawa is treated to one of the most spectacular (free to view) fireworks show around, of that I was certain. Every Canada Day, hundreds of thousands of people make the trek out to Parliament Hill and the surrounding parks to take in the light show which lasts anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on how many kickbacks the Liberals took in that year.

HOWEVER, the Oyama Hanabi festival goes one step further. By introducing private sponsors to the festival, they can put on a show which lasts several hours. It is not constant fireworks, but the longest break between displays is maybe 5 minutes. Before every sponsor's display of fireworks, a short announcement is made to the crowd over loudspeakers announcing the name of the sponsor... and then the show starts. From what I saw tonight, there are some pretty deep pockets in Japan! Full blown major foreworks barrages which lasted multiple minutes were common, and must have come at a hefty price. The overall effect is just as the name would suggest, a Hanabi festival... as opposed to a fireworks show. People sit around, picnic, glance up at the sky once in a while to see the show, talk with friends and leave when they feel like it. There was a steady stream of people in and out of the riverside area during the whole time we were there. Pretty damn cool stuff, very nice atmosphere with alot of people wearing traditional Japanese dress.

But fireworks weren't the only reason today was such a blast. I finally got the opportunity to ride Japan's much vaunted local rail system, all by my lonesome... and didn't get lost! Woohoo! I didn't even need to use Yoshi's help letter written out in Japanese. While I trust the man deeply, I couldn't help but think he'd try to send me to Sendai or something as a joke... lol I can just imagine what the message said: "This gaikokujin has absolutely no clue how to use the simple Japanese rail system, please help him get to Oyama, it may be best if you held his hand most of the way." LOL! Seriously, the note politely asked for assistance in purchasing a ticket and finding my way to the track, and I am quite grateful that Yoshi wrote it out for me. On with the pictures!

This is the monstrosity which I had to defeat today, the local train... kind of like a subway train, lots of standing room with seats along the outside... only for longer distances. Utsunomiya to Oyama is about 30 minutes, and costs 480Y. Mayu (one of our students) and Hiro hopped on at Suzumenomiya and Emiko (another student) hopped on one station further. And after the train took off, Noriyuki-sensei found me on the train as well and said hello, though that was the last time we saw him... the train filled up pretty quickly and the crowd heading out of the station was unbelievable.

Once we fought our way down the sidewalks and into the area where the streets were closed to vehicle traffic, we started smelling the lovely aroma of food cooking all around us. A series of outdoor food stalls had been setup and were selling a wide variety of Japanese and other (Korean pancake and French crepe among others) to the visitors. Here's a picture of a tired oconomiyaki chef taking a quick break from the hot grill between flips.

More oconomiyaki artisans, this is the stall I brought from.

Yet another shot of my favourite stall food. I also tried out a Korean pancake of some kind (Chi Chi something? and while it was good... it wasn't that great...

So after buying our oconomiyaki, chi chi something and a bag of beer, we headed on down to the river side to find a spot to pitch our tarp. This is a segment of our spread, oconomiyaki on the bottom, chi chi something with the red sauce in the middle, lovely marinated chicken wings a la Hiro and of course beer.... Hiro has also brought along his home made tako salad, which was lovely. (Note: Tako as in octopus, not as in Mexican taco)

Just to prove there were in fact fireworks there... I'm not setup photographically to take night or fireworks shot with this camera... if I had had the space to bring my Nikon SLR... it wouldn't be a problem... but I decided to travel light. I'm not that into fireworks pictures anyway...

Some kind of odd effect, I obviously moved...

The fearless Hanabi lovers after the fireworks and an extra beer at an Izakaya to let the crowds thin out. From the left, Hiro, Emiko and Mayu.

The group of 4 waiting for the train in Oyama.

Emiko and Mayu on the train.

And that's about that. I've got to get to bed... have to be up in 6 and a half hours to hop on ye old Shinkansen and head back in to Shinjuku. Will be nice to see the folks from initial training again...

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