Posts Tagged summer festival
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!
July 30 was the first day of Numazu festival and was Dom’s birthday as well. After work I met up with The Penpal and we went to watch fireworks with about 100,000 other people. People filled the streets and one of the major bridges over the Kano river. It was hot and crowded, but the show was amazing!
During the summer festival, the streets are lined with small food and souvenir stands. Many of the stands are run by yakuza. I am not sure why exactly the yakuza run the food stands, but I can only assume it’s a public relations stunt like when the Hell’s Angels raise money for charity. It is a unique experience buying yakisoba or ice cream from a gangster with his insane tattoos peeking out from his yukata.
After the fireworks show, the Penpal had to go home, and I stayed out to party with the other English teachers.
I would have taken pictures, but at some point I dropped my camera on the concrete and it no longer works.
Today I got to work a rare early Saturday shift. Through my entire time teaching, I have always worked the late shift on Saturday. Most teachers work early Saturdays, and then get started on their evening activities while I am still at the office.
Conveniently, there was a summer festival in Atami. Koalako invited me and some of the other teachers to come to the festival. We all met up and took the train to Atami. I had never been to a summer festival before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. We walked through the hilly streets of Atami to Koalako’s house. I had met her parents earlier in the ear at a really fun karaoke night. They greeted us all with beer and sushi, which is a pretty great way to greet people.
After eating, we were provided with Hapi Coats (a short robe) to go to the festival. As we approached the main street of Atami, we saw throngs of people on either side of the road cheering on the giant floats that were being pulled down the street. All of the floats had lights and decorations, and were full of people drumming, playing instruments, and singing loudly. It was a crazy atmosphere.
We followed Koalako down the street through the crowds. I expected that we were going to find a spot and watch the parade. However, I was surprised when she lifted up the barrier rope and called us into the street. Not wanting to be left behind, we followed her as she walked up to one of the giant floats. At the front of the float was a team of people in summer festival gear holding on to a large rope used to pull the float through the streets. Koalako introduced us, and her friends made room on the rope.
Yes, we were now part of the team pulling the float through Atami!
We pulled the brightly lit float while everyone inside made lots of noise, entertaining the crowd and competing with the other floats. Occasionally we would stop to jump around and dance, and generally try to make even more noise. Thankfully my years in the fraternity had provided great training for jumping around and being noisy, so I fit right in with the crowd.
By the time we finished and parked the float, we were drenched in sweat. High fives were exchanged, beer flowed freely, and giant bottles of water were poured over heads. As we walked back towards the train station, we all agreed that it was one of the most fun nights we had ever experienced in Japan, and we hoped to do it again next year!
(2015 Update) Check my post about a visit to Atami Summer festival in summer 2013 here
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.