Jostling with the crowds

Trip Start Mar 18, 2003
Trip End Apr 08, 2007

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Flag of Japan  ,
Saturday, July 29, 2006

It's another steamy late July in Japan, and for the Japanese that holds a certain, special meaning. Yes, it's the start of fireworks season. All over the country, cities start hosting spectacular displays, competing for the crowds with whatever novelty they have to offer. In a country where even the most meager of festivals seems to attract hordes, drawing a crowd is hardly an ambitious goal. So what do my girlfriend and I decide to do? Up the ante and head to perhaps the most famous fireworks display in Central Honshu (well, certainly within the vicinity of Nagoya, at least!) - the Nagara-gawa display in Gifu. A total fireworks count of a mere 30,000 (!), which is only matched regionally by the display in Tokugawa Ieyasu's hometown of Okazaki. Actually, from what I've heard, the two are among Japan's largest fireworks displays, so there you go.

Naturally though, as an eikaiwa drone, Saturday's a work day for me, and in central Nagoya, no less. That meant I had to book it out of my school in order to meet my girlfriend and make it in time for the start of the festivities. Gifu's about a 20 to 30-minute train north of Nagoya and it goes without saying that any old caboose heading that direction would be popular. Luckily, we managed to elbow our way up to the doorways of a fast train and even snag a seat. Still, that was just the beginning. Getting from the station to the site (some 40 minutes away on foot) was another matter altogether. The first signs weren't so good: a frighteningly long line snaked from the exit of the station to the outbound bus, weaving innumerable times in between. Man, do the Japanese ever love queues! Me? I'd rather walk.

My ever-resourceful better half happened to think of a better idea. Well, her grandmother actually is a Gifu native, so it turned out that she knew of another option on the bus end. It just so turns out that if you think out of the box (no mean feat over here sometimes!) and head down the road a bit, you can pick up a normal bus, sans queue, that takes you in the same direction. Same cost. So, we do so and get there likely a half hour before the other lackeys that would rather follow the herd. Kudos to Mayu!

30,000 is a big number, but it didn't take long for me to figure out how they hit that mark. The fireworks display in Toyota last year was certainly impressive at the time, but in this one they one-up them through a pretty simple tactic: lob a bunch more fireworks up there simultaneously. Literally, at times it was just an onslaught. Eye-opening for sure, even awe-inspiring, but at times it's a bit overwhelming (or even numbing). Still, I've gotta give them props for the spaces in between and the fact that they crammed it all into an hour and a half.

The turn-out was frankly ridiculous though. There's one way to guarantee constant turn-out of people from any corner of Japan: put an event or sight on some list. Anyone that's been to any of the "Top Three Gardens," "Three Great Views" and so on would know that the Japanese love lists. Don't even get me started on the obsession with UNESCO World Heritage Sites (the pinnacle of lists to many Japanese). Apparently the Nagara-gawa fireworks festival is ranked number two on the "Top Three Dynamic Fireworks Shows" or some such. Boom! Instant fame! Wisely we opted to bring our own food rather than attempt to hurdle over the writhing masses and pay for over-priced street stall grub. Doubly wisely, we hit the road at breakneck speed the instant the festivities ended. Gifu's all well and good, but I'd rather not be forced to spend the night there.

Now it's wind-down time before summer vacation starts. Four more days of classes, then it's off into the blue with Northworst Airlines. For the first time in over a year and a half, I get to go back and check on life in Oklahoma. It's always interesting to go back. It's even more interesting to see how little changes sometimes. I'm in for a busy visit though. The whole family will be there (at predictably out-of-sync times, unfortunately), which will be very nice. A mandatory dental appointment is on the agenda (given the dodgy affairs of modern dentistry in my host country) and then it's off to summon the muse. My old bandmates and I have a full platter of recording to do: some 12 to 15 songs in about five days, 2/3rds of which we've never rehearsed together (!). Should be, uh, interesting.

Until then, it's routine for a few more days.
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