. This consisted of a parade of 10,000 people dancing, in sync, down the city’s main streets, in yucata, sandals and fans, with the parade song sung live on a loop and tannoyed throughout the city; street acts including the stirring Taiko drumming; parades of shrines, traditional costumes and floats, an open air pop gig and jazz evening; and the grand finale, the Hannabai Taikai
, a spectacular firework display with thousands gathered along the riverfront, and apparently 10,000 explosions. Local people and visitors were dressed in their traditional Japanese finery, men, women and children, and the whole city was buzzing.
To cool off from all this excitement we hired bikes and cruised about the city - me on a bouncy single-speeder and Phil on an ‘Expresso’ tourer - cycling out to the beach for dips in the bath-water warm Sea of Japan
. The golden town beaches were busy with families and groups of youngsters hanging out. Off another beach there was a dinghy race taking place and off another jet skis were carving arcs and jumping wake. It was lovely to see the Japanese at their most relaxed, although the Lycra leggings and arm covers some girls were wearing to prevent any tanning seemed a little excessive given the heat.
The offshore banks of gigantic crisscross-shaped rip-rap and tsunami evacuation signs with cartoons of people running before a giant wave made it difficult not to keep glancing at the horizon! Japan’s coastline has been massively engineered (as have its rivers and even mountains where they meet road and rail). According to Lonely Planet Japan, ‘5,570 km or nearly 50% of Japan’s coastline has been completely or substantially altered by cement
’ but being one of the most seismically active regions in the world, with more than 1000 earthquakes a year, you can understand why.
I’d love to say it was all in the planning, but it was actually pure coincidence that we arrived in the west coast city of Niigata at the start of one of the largest festivals of the year - the