Traveling on a holiday weekend

I realized this weekend that I don’t often travel on holiday weekends in Japan. This was a three day weekend in Japan, and of course the reason for the holiday was … um …Labor Thanksgiving Day. Yeah, that’s right. According to Wikipedia,

Labor Thanksgiving Day (勤労感謝の日 Kinrō kansha no hi) is a national holiday in Japan. It takes place annually on November 23. The law establishing the holiday cites it as an occasion for commemorating labor and production and giving one another thanks.
Events are held throughout Japan, one such being the Nagano Labor Festival. The event encourages thinking about the environment, peace and human rights.

Labor Thanksgiving Day is the modern name for an ancient rice harvest festival known as Niiname-sai (新嘗祭?), believed to have been held as long ago as November of 678. Traditionally, it celebrated the year’s hard work; during the Niiname-sai ceremony, the Emperor would dedicate the year’s harvest to kami (spirits), and taste the rice for the first time.

The modern holiday was established after World War II in 1948 as a day to mark some of the changes of the postwar constitution of Japan, including fundamental human rights and the expansion of workers rights. Currently Niiname-sai is held privately by the Imperial Family while Labor Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday.

According to me, it is a VERY BUSY travel period. It almost got cancelled because late Friday afternoon my boss asked who was coming in this weekend. Say what? Anyway, I got that arranged and guiltily took the three days.

I had made reservations in Kyoto using a free Hyatt night about 6 months ago, anticipating this weekend would be the peak of the fall colors. It wasn’t but that didn’t stop the crowds. Tomo thought this weekend might also be a good time to go to Osaka and see his family, so our weekend plans grew. Saturday morning as we were heading towards Kyoto, Tomo suggested we get our return tickets for Monday. Ah, good thing we did.

Monday evening train service from Osaka (大阪) to Nagoya (名古屋) and Tokyo (東京)

Difficult to get to Tokyo

The red X means no seats are available. The blue – is simply indicating that service is not available (smoking car, or stopping at a certain location). The yellow triangle is a “be careful” while the green circle is OK. The only train available to Tokyo on the screen was a smoking, first class.

Already on Saturday the trains for Monday were selling out. In order to sit together, we had to take the Green Car, that’s the first class carriage. I’m spoiled and often take the Green Car, but that can get pricey.

Kyoto does a lot of illuminations, and I wrote about it last year. This year was even crazier it seems. Instead of visiting Kiyomizudera, we went to 高台時 (Koudaiji). There we had to wait about 40 minutes just to get to the entrance of the temple. Wow, that was a line. You can see the crowd snaking up the stairs. Well, you can sort of see the crowd.

The cold, dark line at Koudaiji


During the day on Saturday we went to Arashiyama. We got our first taste of the crowd there.

The heavy crowds at Arashiyama.

The crowded weekend begins


We also went to Nishiki, which is a long, narrow, covered market. There I did battle with the obaasan and came out battered and bruised. Never, EVER, get in a shoving match with an obaasan (FYI, my Apple dictionary simply defines an obaasan as an old lady (woman)). I know it sounds horrible, getting into a shoving match with an old lady, but if you live in Japan you know what I am talking about.

The Nishiki crowd.

The crowds continue


In spite of the crazy crowds, it was a fantastic weekend in Kyoto and then in Osaka with Tomo’s family. More later after the pictures are edited.

It’s beginning to look a lot like …

It is early November in Nagoya, which means BREAK OUT EVERYTHING XMAS! Yes, it’s time to break out the Christmas music, hang the lights, and put up the decorations. It is only 6 weeks until Christmas so it is time to start now.

Last weekend I noticed that it looked like things were starting to go up. This week I even made the subject of my English class, “Christmas Season.” No, I am not an English teacher, but I facilitate a weekly conversation class at lunch time at work for those who are interested. It is actually pretty fun.

Anyway, this morning at Starbucks, I noticed the music. Christmas tunes already on the air. The other night I noticed it when I went to the ATM, wandered to Tokyu Hands to by some cleaning supplies, bought more cleaning supplies at Muji, and then ended up buying a new coat at Orihica. Oops, that was an expensive trip to the ATM. Oh well, you can never have too many coats in Japan.

Early in the week it was cold. As a result, everyone broke out their winter clothes. It was convenient too because November 1 is the end of typhoon season and apparently the start of winter clothes season. It has warmed up at the end of the week, but that didn’t keep people from putting their winter clothes back in the closet. Nope, it is scarves and heavy coats until Spring arrives (probably around hanami). I’ve even fallen in to the trap. Today we had a bowling event with 60 co-workers and I wore my jacket while riding my bike in case it was cold when I rode home. It wasn’t.

For some reason, I don’t mind the early start to the Christmas season here. It is actually pretty, and Christmas doesn’t really have the same meaning so it isn’t quite as forced. We don’t have the Thanksgiving buffer either, so there is no natural barrier. So I’ll enjoy the 70 deg frightful weather in my brand new fall jacket and be at peace with it.


What a nice weekend. A gaijin friend who lives in Tokyo came down to Nagoya to visit for the first time since I’ve been here. I’ve been to his place in Tokyo countless times and appreciate the hospitality. We didn’t do much, just walked around and talked and watched a couple of movies.

As we were walking around Nagoya, I decided to go to Osu Kannon. This area is just on the oustskirts of the main commercial center in Nagoya. It is a commercial area itself and boasts a HUGE covered shopping area and has many temples. These shopping areas are prevalent in older parts of cities all over Japan, and are called 商店街 (しょうてんがい – shoutengai). If you’ve ever been to Milan, think of the galleria between the Duomo and La Scala, but on a much less grand scale and filled with a lot cheaper shops. I’ve never been a big fan of this area, but I wanted his impression.

A couple of weeks before, Tomo and I had also been there looking for a vintage ジャイアントロボ (Giant Robot from Johnny Socco) figure for a US colleague whose just-turned-10 son is fighting cancer. With the help of my interpreter at work, I had several stores to visit, and they were all in the Osu Kannon area. We found the shops to be amazing and scary at the same time. If I ever want to do Cosplay and dress up as Sailor Moon, I know where to go!

Anyway, back to this latest trip. Over 25 years ago, my friend did missionary work in Japan. These were the types of areas that they would do their proselytize so it holds a nostalgic place in his heart. Although there doesn’t seem to be any place that I would actually buy anything (except perhaps Mandarake), he is correct that these areas are uniquely Japanese. We had a really good time wandering through the shop area. Even more interesting is getting on to the side streets and finding uniquely Japanese things.

Temples in Osu cannon,

Osu Kannon temple


Osu Kannon temple


And the 商店街 (しょうてんがい – shoutengai)

Osu Kannon shopping street


Osu Kannon shopping street

The streets around Osu Cannon, including a barbershop and a very old looking hotel.

Osu Kannon barber shop


Osu Kannon hotel


Besides Nagoya, I have been to an area like this in Tokyo. I actually got my iPhone in an area like this. I figured a Softbank store wouldn’t be so crowded on the opening weekend in a less “famous” location. I was right. I’ve been to these shopping areas in Nara, Himeji, and Mito. Some of the areas are thriving, and some are dying. The dying ones are sad.

In Nara,

Shoutengai in Nara


On our walk, we also wandered past some good Engrish and saw a b-boy dance festival. Apparently I wasn’t supposed to take pictures. Ooops. The b-boys were good – very athletic dancing and clearly some ex-gymnasts in the crowd. All those hours practicing in front of large plate glass windows in city centers paid off for them.

Perhaps this is Bridal?


Dance contest


Also during the weekend I was able to catch up on work email, get a couple of blog entries done, and finish reading a book. Nice.