Hanabi (花火)

We made it to Gifu yesterday for the fireworks spectacular. We left Nagoya around 2:30 pm to make sure we could arrive in Gifu at the hottest time of day. It was hot – no doubt about it. From the train station we had about a 30 minute walk to the river where the fireworks were being held.

On the shady side of the street

We started walking on the sunny side of the street, but fortunately Steve suggested that we walk on the shady side. Not a bad idea. Here’s a map of our journey. Sort of. We did go from Point A to Point B on the map, but Google Maps left us a little short by walking, and seemed to take the great circle route.


View Larger Map

When we got to the river bank, there was no doubt that we were hot, it was going to be really hot, and we had hours to go before the main event actually started. As we got to the river, we saw a thermometer that said it was 39 degC. That’s over 100 deg F. Plus high humidity. If 299,997 Japanese can survive this weather and the fireworks, surely 3 foreigners can. Steve, always on the lookout, suggested we sit by the river under the shade of a bridge. I initially objected because I thought I wanted to be closer to the action. However, I was pretty quick to realize maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. Wouter and Steve found their favorite large rocks to sit on, while I opted for a more distributed pad of smaller rocks. I could have a series of small bruises on my butt at this point, but I haven’t checked and I have requested anyone to check for me.

We were very near the water, and that cools things off as well. Lots of the Japanese wore traditional summer wear – called 浴衣 (yukata). It is sort of like a robe for men, and a lighter weight kimono for women. For the guys I can imagine they are cool – you get a good breeze! For the women – they suffer! You can see the guy and the girl in the picture. Actually, the guy isn’t wearing full yukata. Instead, he’s wearing shorts and a shirt in the style of yukata. I’m not sure why you wear yukata to summer festivals – maybe it is like wearing red, white and blue on the Fourth of July.

On the water's edge

Like any summer celebration anywhere in the world, there are food stalls, beer, and people.

Food stalls, people on both sides of the river

Towards the staging area

We mostly hung out in our shaded river spot and watched the world around us happen.

Preparing our spot

We all noticed how generally calm people were in this gathering. We didn’t see any tempers flaring as they waited. Just people hanging out with friends and family having a good time and trying to stay cool. Steve amazed the Japanese with his rock skipping abilities. After a few particularly successful skips, he got a few comments of “sugoi!” which means “Great!”

Steve skipping rocks

There were a group of Japanese boys that looked like they just stepped out of an anime. They sat behind us at first and were being loud and smoking cigarettes and we thought, “Great.” Then they wandered off and came back in front of us. Their yukata seemed to be purchased from a party store to try to be really hip and modern. But as the night went along, they became more and more entertaining. They were trying to get the courage to come talk to us and you could hear them practicing their English. They never actually got the courage for a full discussion but they did shout some “hellos” to us. Japanese boys can be very confusing – they had lots of bling and painted nails and were probably on the prowl for some girls that looked exactly like them!

The fireworks did not disappoint. The preliminaries started while it was still light, so that was strange. But once the real show started at 7:15 pm (yes, that early). Holy Cow! It was like one grand finale after another. I think it was a competition so all the different manufacturers just strutted their stuff. It went on for one and a half hours. It was overwhelming. It is always hard to take fireworks pictures. I tried to get some, and I think the pictures below capture the flavor. Of course, unless you really focus on the photo and not the show, you won’t get much. I wanted to enjoy the show!

Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

After the fireworks, all 300,000 people start heading for their car, buses, home, or the train station. We stayed until the end, but then Steve was on a mission to get to the very front of the crowd. By this time it had cooled down to maybe 31 degC with even more humidity. Of the three of us, I’m the shortest so our strides were significantly longer than families with small children, the elderly, and Japanese in traditional summer clothes! We were able to pass thousands of people on our way to the train. We got to the train station in front of the mob, hopped on a train, found some seats, and the doors closed and we were on our way home. Definitely a good time. I’m just really glad we avoided the sun most of the day.

Trashy

I got my first, “Someone is screwing up on the way they sort their garbage and you are a foreigner so you must be stupid and doing it wrong” note today. I was warned that the foreigners are always blamed for any mis-sorted garbage. Sigh. I know it wasn’t me but anyway, what am I going to do? I believe I’ve said before that Nagoya is crazy about trash.

This week was difficult on a domestic front. As I reported my internet was out at the beginning of the week. I got home on Thursday night and the internet was down again. Oh no! “Welcome to the 90’s,” said Tomo. I spent at least 30 minutes with a help desk that spoke no English. I got nowhere on that. I determined that I was having a power supply problem and insisting the company replace the modem (or what I was led to believe was a modem). My communication solution was to conference call from work with Tomo or a translator to get to the bottom of the problem. My mobile phone does not have three way calling capabilities. Things were much easier with a translator. It turns out that it isn’t a modem in my closet – just a hub. Oh, that’s it? I can replace that myself. I did a quick test with a hub already in use and everything worked. Yeah! I bought a hub and joined the 21st century again.

I got a late notice on my gas bill as well. I thought I could take the bill to a convenience store to make the payment. Nope. No bar code. So I took what I thought was the bill. Nope, just a meter reading. I couldn’t find the bill anywhere. That is, until I asked for help on the phone. I did one last rummage through my computer bag and found a bill. I don’t have to worry about getting gas cut off!

I’m frustrated that my Japanese isn’t better. It really comes through in phone calls. Plus, customer service people speak very formally (keigo) so it is even more difficult to understand because all verbs are modified to show their respect. I don’t need respect, just help! I need to start taking private lessons again soon!

Wouter is in from Europe this week for a visit. Yeah! Why in from Europe? He’s Dutch, we met in Luxembourg, and he currently lives in Spain. A true European. We are going to Gifu tonight for a fireworks festival with over 30000 fireworks. Yes, that’s right. 30000 fireworks. It should be fun. That is, if Wouter ever wakes up. I guess the futon is comfortable. He’s sleeping in the “cave” so he probably has no idea what time it is.

It promises to be extremely hot for today’s event. It is going to get up to 37 degC in Nagoya, or about 99 degF. Yikes. Well, at least the humidity is high too! I’m definitely wearing shorts!

Last night I had a very strange orthodontics dream. I had bands and wires coming lose all over the place. I haven’t worn braces since 1993. I wonder what that dream means?

A little homesick

I’m typing this entry as I sit in the green car of a Tokyo / Hiroshima shinkansen. I’ll be rolling in to Nagoya from Shinagawa in 1:34. A quick run on a very, very fast train. Green car is the equivalent to first class. It isn’t that much more and it is a little easier to deal with on a very busy holiday weekend.

I was able to enjoy a long weekend away from Nagoya and for the most part away from the influence of work. It was so nice to be in Tokyo and being with friends who have known me for a while and who are not work colleagues. Tokyo feels like home to me. Although I like where I live in Nagoya, it doesn’t have the “home is where the heart is” feeling of Tokyo yet. I miss my friends and having a network outside of work to get me away from work. This weekend I also saw a movie that takes place primarily in San Pedro. The location was important to the movie, and it also made me feel homesick for Southern California. I really like living in LA. There are few places or reasons to take me away. This opportunity to live in Japan is one of those things.

Last week was a stressful week for a variety of reasons that are not really a part of what I want to write about for all to read. Don’t worry, fair reader, it is nothing too serious. Just kind of a convergence of things to make me stop and think.

The upcoming week has the potential to allow me to catch up on some stuff at work so I am grateful for that. All that could change the moment I turn on my computer or walk in the door on Tuesday (whichever comes first).

Wouter arrives from Spain on Friday. My first visitor and I am very excited! Both of us have been so busy that we’ve made no plans for his visit. Will I be in Tokyo next weekend? Will I go to Kyoto? Hiroshima? Or just hang around Nagoya? Will I rent a car and road trip it somewhere? Ah, the possibilities!

NOTE: This wasn’t actually posted until Tuesday night because – GASP! – my internet was down last night. Oh no! I was lost. LOST! I got a colleague from the office near my apartment to come over and sit on the phone with Tech Support and help me debug. There’s a box in a closet with a modem that lost power. Go figure!

Special sumo day

Note – don’t get bored by the story and give up. The after-match action is pretty cool.

Today I went to my first sumo match ever. It was the opening day of the 15 day Nagoya match, one of the country’s major meets. Although I had never been to a match, I had seen some on TV. Still, TV didn’t prepare me for actually going.

One of my Japanese work colleagues arranged the tickets. It turns out he got the tickets from one of the wrestlers who is a friend of his. Pretty cool. Here’s a picture of some of the advertisements as we made our way in to the stadium. The gymnasium is within the Nagoya Castle grounds.

Advertisements on the entrance to the sumo arena

We had box seats, which I thought was a pretty good deal. Well, the boxes make the Hollywood Bowl boxes look spacious. Pretty tight quarters. You can see from the picture that the box was a surface with some mats and pipe boundaries. Luxurious! I went with Steve, Shuji, and Adryan. A very international crowd.

Adryan, Shuji, Steve, me

We had a pretty good view of the arena, and we were right behind the television crew so we got to watch instant replays.

The wide angle view from our box

We arrived at about 2:30 pm. We could have arrived at 8:30 am. Matches were going on that long. But we didn’t really need to see the wrestlers who are moving up in rank. We got there around the middle rankings. We were there in time to see Shuji’s friend win, and another lose. There were a fair number of foreigners in the crowd, and the ones who kept standing in our way and blocking our view were, of course, foreigners! Down in front!

We watched the matches with our legs wrapped like a pretzel. Fortunately I am able to still sit Indian style. It’s not so easy. A colleague of mine was elsewhere and I doubt he had a lot of fun trying to sit in the box.

Finally the big boys came out.

The elite
They are a mixed bag – Russians, Bulgarians, Mongolian, and Japanese. The speed and power were clearly different from the previous matches.

Preparing for the lunge

There were some pretty nasty head blows by some of the wrestlers. The crowd was glad to see dirty wrestlers and foreigners lose. The final match between the current grand champion and a challenger was the best. The tournaments are basically a 15 day round-robin type event – it isn’t a one and done situation. Good thing too, because the current grand champion lost in a highly entertaining scrum. Matches last from about 10 seconds to a couple of minutes. This match was probably about a minute. You could tell these guys were strong. After the grand champion Mongolian Asashoryu lost, all the seat cushions came flying! Apparently Asahoryu is not well liked. The seat cushions typically come flying when the yokuzuna (grand champion) loses. Adryan actually bumped in to him last night and he was not too friendly to anyone.

Seat mats fly through the air

Today’s match was also eventful as we saw Kotooshu (the first European to win the Emperor’s Cup) lose his match as well.

Check out this WSJ article on sumo. It is better than I can report.

The after party

But what I can report that the WSJ can’t is that I had dinner with at least two of the competitors at their Nagoya training temple! How about that? Pretty cool. Shuji talked to his friend and he invited us to the temple to join them for dinner including chanko nabe (a typical sumo meal). Apparently it is rare to be invited to a “heya” or training house. It took us a while to find the place – the cab driver and Shuji had a failure to communicate. Shuji got one part of the name of the area wrong and the taxi driver kept giving Shuji a hard time. He sounded pretty rude to me. We finally got to the general area and the taxi driver dropped us off at a temple. The WRONG temple, but it was a start. We wandered down the street a little bit and found another temple. Shuji learned it was the correct temple and we wandered back into a wooded area and then stumbled upon a sumo ring on the temple grounds.

The training ring

We entered into the temple and it was a typical tatami room full of very, very, very large men in shorts and an occasional t-shirt. There were two tables set up on the floor. Not even tables, really, but discs on the floor with mats around them. We were assigned four seats and then served food while the younger wrestlers waited. One of my colleagues was uncomfortable and didn’t want to eat until everybody started eating. It was a little uncomfortable to dig in while others stood around, but it was also the expectation. So I dug in – no problem! I can’t imagine the food budget. I’m sure the four of us counted as one wrestler. We enjoyed some sashimi, eggs, fried something, fried pork, chanko nabe, rice, and beer. In moderation it was fine. It was quite a unique experience though, and I think a very rare opportunity. I wasn’t really sure of the protocol and how much I should speak and to whom I could or could not speak with. Once they discovered I could speak Japanese folks got a little friendlier. Today is the first day of the 15 day match, so it really was nice of them to allow us to join. Here’s a picture of Steve, Adryan, Shuji’s Mongolian friend, Shuji, and Shuji’s Japanese friend. The shiner on Shuji’s friend is from training – not today’s match. They don’t look so big in the picture. But trust me, they are.

Shuji's sumo friends

I have a picture goofing with one of the guys, both flexing for the camera. Which one is the sumo wrestler?

Who's the wrestler?

Tonight was a rare opportunity – I certainly know that. It will be a special night that I will always remember. These guys live sumo 24 x 7.

Sign of the times

As I was riding around the city today I heard the first cicadas of the season. We don’t have those in Cal-li-for-nee-a (think Ahhnold). Certainly had them in Indiana and around Australia. If you get near a whole bunch of them it feels like they are in your head rattling around. They aren’t that thick in Japan yet but they will be soon. I really like the critters, they remind me of summer time. They drive me a little crazy when they feel like they are in my head but that’s the price you pay for cool bugs sometimes.

Stamp of Japanese cicada

For something completely different I went to Mexican food tonight at Jerry Uno’s in Nagoya. Yum, it was pretty good. It wasn’t Pachanga’s, but it was the best I could do. It was a welcomed change. I had a couple of Corona’s, some chips and salsa, a bean soft taco (with mayonnaise of course – why does everything have to have mayo?), and a spicy burrito. Yum. It was a welcome change of pace. I rode my bike to my boss’ apartment and then we met up with another colleague and walked to the restaurant. I enjoyed using the bike as transportation.

I am going to the opening day of the sumo wrestling tournament in Nagoya tomorrow. It should an interesting cultural experience. I’ll try to get some pictures.