Posts Tagged Atami
Today was Atami summer festival. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I had so much fun last year that I decided that I couldn’t miss out. A few of my coworkers and I met up after work and rode the train through the mountains (literally through tunnels) to Atami, where we were greeted by Koalako.
Before the parade, we did some pre-gaming at Koalako’s parents house. They supplied us with Hapi coats, the traditional vest like garments that people wear to hot, humid summer festivals. Just like the year before, we got to help pull the float through the hilly, winding streets of Atami, completely surrounded by people, noise and lights. It was hot and humid and felt like we were in the world’s noisiest sauna! We all had fun, the only incident being Molly getting beer in her eye on an errant pour.
Koalako’s parents invited us back to their house for a post festival celebration including lots of food and beer. The beer was served in the traditional style, pouring into small glasses from big bottles. Every time there was some space in a glass, one of our hosts would fill it with beer. This is a great way to lose track of how much you’ve had to drink. Having some experience with this before, I kept a close watch on my beer consumption. My coworkers took a while longer to catch on, so making the walk back to the train station particularly challenging.
Despite Molly falling asleep on the platform while waiting for our train, we all got home safely, if a little drunk and sweaty. Just like last year, Atami summer festival was a great time!
Tonight was another fun night out with Azeroth and friends.
Azeroth was friends with Koalako, one of the students at Mishima NOVA. I had taught her many times before, and she was always a fun person to talk to. Koalako lives in Atami, a nearby city built on the side of a mountain on the ocean. Atami is a terrible place to try to ride a bicycle, but a great place to see fireworks, and is famous for its many hot springs.
I met up with Azeroth, Koalako, and Koalako’s friend (that Azeroth was interested in) in Mishima. I was just finishing work and they had already had a few drinks. We all got on Tokaido line for the 12 minute ride east to Atami. In Atami, we drank beer while walking down the steep roads towards the waterfront. Azeroth, being the classy guy that he is, stopped to pee on the side of the mountain while the ladies and I were watching the fireworks. When you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go.
We caught the end of a fantastic firework show, with colours reflecting off the ocean. After the show was done, Koalako got a call from her parents. They had never met anyone from outside of Japan before, so they invited us to have some beer and snacks at their local pub. Azeroth and I are not known to turn down beer, so we were on our way.
The pub was a traditional “snack” style izakaya. The room itself was small, with several tables facing a long bar counter. In total there was probably seating for 25-30 people maximum. It was a small mom and pop bar that catered to a small group of regular customers from the area. The atmosphere was cozy and friendly, especially because we were the guests of some regulars.
Koalako’s parents were very friendly and outgoing. They greeted us and then started ordering an impressive display of izakaya food and beer. All of the beer was in one litre bottles. The women at the table took turns filling up our small glasses every time there was any space in them. Azeroth and I didn’t pour any of our own drinks. When you are drinking from small glasses that are instantly refilled, it is very easy to lost track of how much you have consumed. Naturally, this led to only one possible outcome: karaoke.
Mama-san (the female owner) brought over the microphones and the song list. There were only about 8 English songs in the whole book. The selection would have made Canadian AM radio proud; Elvis, Paul Anka, Ritchie Valens, and for some reason, Celine f**king Dion. Since we were being treated to our beer and food, Azeroth and I did our best to entertain our hosts. My Elvis and Paul Anka were passable (despite not knowing the songs well), but my version of “My Heart with Go On” was epically awful. Azeroth was laughing the whole time at making the Canadian guy sing Celine Dion. However, he did bail me out half way through the song as we turned it into an over the top duet.
After more beer than I can count and some good karaoke thanks to Koalako and parents, we noticed that it was getting dangerously close to the last train of the evening. Koalako’s father was worried that we would get lost walking to the station, so he got mama-san to call us a taxi to get us to the station. We thanked our hosts for the fun evening, and protested as Koalako’s father made sure to pay the taxi driver in advance as we were leaving. Koalako’s father is great!
The train ride home seemed about 6 times as long as the ride there, and the walk back to our apartment took forever, owing mainly to the fact that we were unable to walk in a straight line. The evening was a lot of fun, but I am not looking forward to the next morning.
(2015 Update) This is a greatly expanded version of my post from 10 years ago. I added in a lot of detail and mentioned that Koalako was a student, something that I smartly omitted the first time around. I ran into Koalako’s father when I was visiting Japan in 2013, and found that he was still as friendly and outgoing as ever.
After a harrowing experience with a hangover earlier in the day, I was once again on the move, this time heading from Koriyama to Atami to see my good friend Koalako. (again, not a real name – please see my cast of characters list) Fortunately for me, Atami was having their amazing summer festival during my visit. I have not been to enough summer festivals in Japan to give an objective opinion, but Atami’s has to rank near the top of the list.
Atami is a resort town built on the side of a mountain beside a beach. It is well known for its hot springs and amazing fireworks. I also know it from its festivals, steep streets, and the time I had to sing Celine Dion for free beer. Unlike the rest of Japan, I don’t think anyone owns a bicycle in Atami. If they do, they are either the a fitness freak or or they spend most of their time walking the bike up hills regretting their purchase.
Koalako was waiting for me at the train station. After a big hug (a friendly one – I am married!) we ditched my heavy backpack in a locker and started the long, steep, curving descent through the streets of Atami. Koalako had not used English for some time, so we started by alternating in my shoddy Japanese and her rusty English. Years of not using our second languages had created a bit of a language barrier, but we soon were talking like old friends again.
About half way down we saw a street vendor selling “Atami beer”, a local brew in time for the summer festival. Koalako walked over and got us each a bottle. Yes, drinking in public in Japan is perfectly legal. Even though it was okay, I couldn’t overcome my instinct to hide the bottle every time we saw other people. Fortunately beer is a reliable instinct killer (especially cold, delicious beer), so by the bottom of the hill I was feeling much more relaxed about public consumption. We came to the main street in Atami which was lined on both sides with throngs of people and street vendors. After walking for a bit, we stopped on the corner of the main street and a major side street. The police blocked off the side street which gave us a chance to get front and center for the festival.
In Atami, all of the neighbourhoods and nearby towns all create floats to pull / drive down the main street. Most of the floats have two levels full of lights, drummers, and people in costumes making a lot of noise. In front there is a long rope so the float can be pulled through the streets. Most of the floats are motorized so the giant pull rope in front is for decoration. The floats are all competing against each other, so each one has unique designs, features and music. The effect is a loud, bright spectacle that you would not expect from a usually reserved society. One of the highlights for me was when two floats are passing in opposite directions, like in this video that I took.
The float from Koalako’s area of Atami was easily the best of the festival. In previous years I had helped pull this float through the street, but this time I was able to be a spectator and enjoy the show. In addition to being the biggest and loudest, the float was equipped to shoot a shower of sparks into the air, resembling a large wooden dragon. Well, a wooden dragon covered in people with drums anyway. As usual, Koalako’s father was involved the float. We walked over to say hi and I was greeted with a huge smile and a firm handshake – very friendly and very un-Japanese. He made sure that his friend following behind hooked me up with a can of beer. Koalako’s father has always been a fun and friendly guy and around him the beer rarely stopped.
After about 90 minutes of noise and standing in the heat, we decided to go to an izakaya so we could sit and chat. This involved a long, steep, hot, humid, terrible walk back up the side of the mountain. I am not sure who decided to build a city on the side of a mountain, but they HATED prairie people.
At the izakaya we ordered the coldest drinks on the menu – frozen draft beer. The beer itself wasn’t frozen, but the head on top was frozen slush. This was an impressive gimmick, but made the beer difficult to drink. In the past, hanging out with Koalako would involve way too much bar food, too much beer and inevitably karaoke. This time was very subdued. We had too much bar food, just enough beer and no time for karaoke. Karaoke with Koalako is great both because she is a classicly trained singer with a beautiful voice, and more importantly she doesn’t complain about how awful and off key I sound.
Summer in Japan is uncomfortably hot and humid. The only redeeming feature is summer festivals like the one in Atami. Make sure you dress cool, drink a cold one while walking through the streets, and always leave time for karaoke after.