Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Asakusa Blow-out!

Originally posted on facebook on 29th July:

Grouchy? Why no, but having spent the evening at the Asakusa summer fireworks festival thing, along with THIRTY TWO HUNDRED MILLION (est.) other people I feel sort of like I've been dipped in honey and left to dry.

Let me bring you up to speed incase you guys don't know yet. I've been training to be an english teacher for the AEON corporation for the last week or so here in Omiya which is part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. The training went pretty well really, I've got my official AEON pin and badge now (nice glow of achievement too) and on Monday I fly to Asabu in Sapporo, Hokkaido where I'll be working. I'm looking forward to this enormously because in Hokkaido it is drastically cooler and less humid at this time of the year. Several Japanese people that I have spoken to have told me that they want to go on holiday to Hokkaido right now to get away from this pervasive, muggy heat.

It's been fun, and there are already lots of things to relate, but I'm going to start with the huge firework display at Asakusa that we went to tonight. Asakusa is sort of thought to be the old-ish looking bit of Tokyo with lots of temples and stuff. This was the second time I've been there and I really couldn't get much of an impression since it had been turned into a sort of flow-chart of city blocks, where policemen and men and boys from what I'm almost certain was the boy scout movement were directing thousands upon thousands of people in an attempt to get them to a gap in the skyline where they could watch the fireworks. We ended up just sort of grinding to a halt by a cordon at the front of a mass of people who were sitting and standing staring expectantly into an open sky. The whole thing was flawlessly implemented by the Japanese police, and I would imagine it was pretty painless for the Japanese, but since we had no idea where we were meant to be going or what any of the temporary signs and maps said, and since there was 8 of us and manouvering large groups through larger groups can be hairy, it was a little stressful. Only a little stressful mind, because in the end it was good fun and Jeff did a phenomenal job making some sense of the signs (Jeff's on facebook, but I don't think I've friended him yet so...).

The firework display was, much like the one I saw in Iizuna last year, spectacular but unsubtle. It was all big fireworks, and every now and then it would build up to a crescendo where they would set off about a hundred of the same one and blow the crap out of the sky. There wasn't a huge amount of variety, but it went on (including the first set of fireworks that we couldn't see because of our angle) for an HOUR AND A HALF and it was HUGE and it was DEAFENING. At a couple of moments and especially during the finale there was so much smoke drifting around that the next set of fireworks just lit up the huge cloud from within, with only a few punching through. It looked amazing. I gotta say too though, the Iizuna fireworks were much more spectacular and much more fun. Seriously, this business was big, but the Iizuna ones were pounding on your chest. If they do that every year then I fear for the architecture and the windows of that town a great deal.

After that - ramen! And after that we found that loads of people were hanging out around Sensoji the huge temple in Asakusa so we walked around there a little bit. It takes something really special to inspire awe and wonder even when surrounded by dozens of gaudy fast food tables and hills and mountains of litter, but it looked amazing.

I'm running up on the time limit I've set myself here so I'll just shoot some ideas out. It's cool seeing the Japanese youth turn out to these mass public events in super-colourful kimonos and elaborate make up, weird seeing people in spectacular kimonos crouched down in groups between dumpsters eating yaki-soba from plastic trays. The super-organised Japanese crowd control system started before we'd even got to Asakusa, at Ueno station they were highly organised, and yes! We did get squashed onto the train by white gloved hands! Not an urban legend! Shutterbug Rose got an amazing video of it, I hope she ups it somewhere as it'd make a great piece of documentary footage.I don't own a camera, though I'll be picking one up ASAP. In the mean time I'm going to try and steal everyone else's pictures tomorrow and upload one or two to illustrate what's been going on for this first week.

Ja matte ne, A.

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