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Published: November 9th 2009
So let's continue with Obon 2009. The next morning, my companion and I headed up, very early; like 7:30am early, to the Takamatsu train station to see what we could do to get on to Tokushima and the rest of our trip. We were met with the news that the trains still wasn't running to Tokushima. With this news in hand, we headed to the bus station, which seemed to be our only option, to see if they were still going to be running. Lucky for us, they were. We managed to get on the bus bound for Tokushima without any problems.
The bus ride to Tokushima was really something. When your riding on the shinkansen, since your moving so fast, you are really just moving through the scenery and not really taking anything in. I usually think the same of buses, but I was pleasantly surprised with this bus ride. Because of the typhoon blowing through we got to ride along more local roads and we even went right along the coast for a while, and by this I mean the road was literally right by the ocean. Of course, with tourist luck, my companion and
I were sitting on the wrong side of the bus to get a really good view of the ocean, but it was still something for me. Most bus rides I take in Japan are all highway buses, so your not really seeing any people or towns. The highway buses are good for scenery in the Fall though. Great views of the changing leaves.
Anyway, back to the story. On our bus ride into Tokushima, we discovered that the reason why the trains weren't running. Because of storm surge, one of the train stations was flooded, so the whole line had to be shut down. The flood also caused one of the stops on the bus to be skipped as well. Not that that really changed the ETA at Tokushima, instead it set it back. We made it into the city just over 3 hours later and in case you were wondering, it was still raining. After being dropped off infront of the station, I ran to the, rather small, tourist information office and procure the official brochure for the Awa Odori (I ended getting this same brochure almost 4 times over the course of our stay).
my favorite things about Japan are the dance festivals. Loud, energetic, packed and wonderful, the dance festivals showcase a great energy and bring back a bit of the traditional into the very modern technologically advanced Japanese lifestyle. Each area in Japan has a special and specific dance that it can showoff for tourists. More famous examples of these dances are Yosakoi (my favorite), Suzume (famous in Sendai), and Tokushima's Awa Odori. The Awa Odori is famous in Japan because it's elegant and the festival to show it off takes place for 4 days during the hot summer months. The Awa Odori was the main reason why my companion and I came. Well, the main reason why I wanted to come and my companion was dragged along for the ride.
Because the Awa Odori is so popular and famous, the Tokushima city government has opened a musuem and a permanent theater so that tourists can see it year round. This museum happens to be attached to the cable car up Mt. Bizan, which is also very close to the Teramachi, or temple district, of town. My companion was very interested in doing a photoshoot in a Japanese cemetery, so off
we headed toward the cable car, temples, and of course, the cemetery. On our short walk to the center, I was stroke with how tropical it was in Tokushima. Before I came to Japan and after living so long in the Tohoku region, when I think about Japan I didn't think about tropical heat, palm trees, blue pacific oceans and surf. Yet, Tokushima was full of all of these things. palm trees lined the streets and the tropical heat and humidity was almost oppressive. My companion and I made comment to the heat many times during our stay in Tokushima.
I left her to her photoshoot and the solitary hike up the mountain while I went on inside and headed up via the lazy cable car. One of the first things I do when I travel to a new place in Japan is head for the highest point and take in the view of where ever I am from up high. A destination comes into a whole different perspective and proportion when you view it from up high. As tourist luck would have it, we were there at a good time. There was a break in the rain, there
was hardly anybody up at the observation area, and I could stand outside without being under an umbrella for the first time in almost 2 days! Life was great! Walking around the top of the mountain was rather interesting. The added scenary for a Hindu pagoda and a rather abandoned looking shrine added to it's rather uplifting and strange charm.
An hour had passed before my companion came stomping up the path bright eyed and bushy tailed from her hike up the mountain. We took one of the best Mom pictures that we have ever taken together and then headed back into town, killed some time in a coffee shop before we caught the last bus back to our hostel. Now, before out journey I was consulting the hostel webpage and read the directions of, "30-40 minute bus ride" and was like, I bet we could totally walk to the station if we wanted too. Oh how wrong I was. It was more like 45-50 minutes by bus, up and down a rather large hill/mountain and right in front of a small cove along the beach. The hostel, it turned out, was huge! It was more like a lodge
with a bunch of small rooms. We had whole baseball teams staying with us for 2 of the days that we were there. It was the perfect place to go and relax after being in the heat of the city all day, like two sides of the same coin. Busy and oppressive city heat and calm and beautiful beach. The hostel managers were wonderful, we added breakfast and lunch onto our bill and enjoyed just relaxing and hanging out on the beach.
The next day my companion decided to stay at the cove for the morning and enjoy being relaxed and lazy. I decided to go into town and walk around a little on my own and enjoy the city. There was the slight obstacle of me missing the bus, but, as I mentioned before, the managers of the hostel were truely wonderful. One was heading into town to go shopping and told me he would take me to the next bus stop and, that tourist luck again, the next bus was right behind us when we got to the main road. Got into town without much trouble and then I headed back to the Teramachi
district to enjoy the district preparing for the coming Obon ceremonies.
Obon is the Japanese cultural holiday for remembering the dead. The spirits of the dead come back and tradiational dinners are set up and the spirits return to be with their families before returning to the underworld. The Teramachi district was moving with repairs to temples, families going to clean graves and pay respects to the dead, and a rather odd mechanical spring. Now this spring, being mechanical and everything, only released water when you pushed a button and only released it for about 2 minutes. The helpful sign told me this was because it was suppose to be very holy and was said to help heal the sick.
Besides the rather head scratching mechanical spring, the late morning/early afternoon was moving and shaking with people. My companion came in and we headed for lunch and then went for a bit of a walk around the station. There is no straight way through Tokushima Station and on the other side of it was a park. My companion and I went the long way, buying a gift for Grandma on the way, and came across a couple of
interesting finds. We were talking about cicadas and how we both rather liked the sound, we are from the South afterall, when my companion spoted one on moulting on the ground. Later on our walk, we spoted a lizard on a tree. It was, honestly, the most animal sightings I have had since moving to Sendai.
After a brief interlude as homeless bums sitting in the coin locker room of the Tokushima Station, we boarded a train to Ryozen-ji. Ryozen-ji is the first temple in the famous 88 Sacred Temples of Shikoku, where pilgrams, of any religion or non-religious, must complete the full circle in anyway. As they go along, they recieve stamps in a prayer book to show that they have made the stop. After the 88th temple, they must return to the 1st temple and complete the circle around the island.
We got a little lost, but we found it in a reasonable amount of time. You know, there are times when your in Japan and most of your traveling becomes the same. Shrine-temple-shrine-temple, and to do something different, lets go see a shrine! I hear the same thing from other foreigners who live, or have
traveled to Japan. You've seen one, you've seen them all, we tend to say. The reason why I say this is because my companion told me about a couple of other overweight tourists, I don't know what nationality but my companion says that they were German, who were being very disrespectful. Take some pictures in the sanctuary, drag around the Japanese lady that they had with them, climb back into their rented car, complete with driver, and move onto the next temple. Seemed almost robotic. In my opinion though, I though this one was pretty special. Maybe it was because I have a rather romantic view of the 88 Temples. Maybe it's because I felt good being there.
On our way out of the temple, I stoped in to get my prayer book stamped. As I walked in I was hit smack in the face with how much the pilgrimage has turned into a business. You could get anything and everything you needed for the walk at the first temple. Need a white robe? Sure, what size? Need a walking stick? Pick a length! Why, don't forget your hat, bag, canteen, and whatever else you think you'll need. It
was kinda disheartening to see it that up close, even when I had just PAID for my prayer book to be stamped. Still, not the way you want to be reminded that this was the 21st century and that the temples gotta make their money somewhere. We ended up kinda rushing back to the station, to make the next train back. We had to make the last bus back to the cove!
Finally, the day was here. AWA ODORI MATSURI! The whole reason that I wanted us to come. The hostel was moving around like a lady with a bee in her bonnet. House and guests were going around talking about the festival, and also about the big earthquake that happened the night before. Before setting out for the last day, I went for a nice decent walk along the cove path. There were little red crabs EVERYWHERE! I must say, it's great fun to play photo-tag with crabs. You gotta be stealthy and at the right moment, you get them coming out of the walls and moving across the sidewalk. My companion had joined with some of the other residents of our hostel and headed
up to a small outlook. We reconvened and, after an illegal shower by my companion, we, along with some other guests and half the participants of the tennis tournament happening next door, moved to the bus to head into town and see the festivities.
The town was swarmed with tourists, mostly Japanese from what I could gather. Our game plan was this, I wanted to head to the Awa Odori museum and check out what it had to say and show and my companion was going to relax and enjoy herself. The building, along with the cabel cars, theater, and museum were swamped. I was pushing and moving trying to get through. Ended up using the stairs because the elevator was jammed with people heading to the cable car. The museum itself was pretty cute. Small, no English to be found, but there were pictures and the most amazing game. Anybody could be an Awa Odori player, you just steped on some sensors and made the little video person move with you.
After the museum and buying my omiyage, and a rather random spoting of a shrine on the roof of an apartment building, I headed back to
my companion and, honestly, at a loss for what to do with ourselves. We deliberated, well maybe I decided, that it would be good to "scout" where we wanted to sit (get good seats and all that) and just wait for the parade to start. Well, this was not the best idea I have ever had. We ended up waiting 2 hours, my companion not overly pleased (I mean really, it was hot and we were sitting on bleachers for over 2 hours. You wouldn't be either) until the parade started. We were joined by one of the other residents of the hostel and watched the show go past us.
The parade was pretty awesome. The way it worked was like a long snake moving through the city and it passed viewing points. Some you had to pay to get in and the rest were open to the public. Obviously we did not go to the section that you had to pay, as the parade moved along the dancers were in full costume. The women were dressed up the most. They had yukatas along with some very high geta, wooden sandles, with pretty skinny wedges to match the very
long and think hat that was kept in place with a chin strap and neck straps. They looked hot and pretty uncomfortable. The men were dressed in jimbei, which is a traditional summer dress, though their think was the head wrap that tied under their noses. They looked pretty comical. The women dances on their toes with their arms held up in the air the whole time. At certain spots the men and women woul come together and form a circle and do an actual dance, not just the variation that happened while they were walking.
Awa Odori, as a dance, seemed much more relaxed and pretty formulaic. It might have been because we weren't sitting by an area where the dancers stopped and did a different dance, but it really did seem like a lot of the same going past us. Beautiful dancers passed us, musicians moved behind them. Even people who came to observe the festival went past us. I felt like I saw mostly the same thing over and over again. In the end, it wasn't one of my favorite Japanese dances, but it was still really good to see and I have a huge respect
for the women dancers. Keeping your arms up in the air for that long, your upper body strength is tested.
Japanese matsuri's can go on well into the night, and the Awa Odori was no different. Sadly, we had a last bus to catch. But that was ok, we had seen through to the second cycle of the dancers and were ready to head back. The next morning, we had a sweet send off from all the workers in the hostel and traveled the 7 hours back to Sendai by train. All in all, it was a very amazing, fun, and important vacation.
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