05 October 2010

First times: Shinkansen and Japanese festival

This weekend I participated in my first ever Japanese festival, the Hanagasa Dancing Parade in Ito, on the Izu peninsula. I heard about this through an invitation I received at school about 2 weeks ago. It was a postcard simply addressed 'ALT, Fujieda Higashi Ko'.It was a fairly short festival by Japanese standards..as I later discovered.

I left my School Sports Day and cycled hell for leather to the station to make my 430 train to Shizuoka-shi. From there I caught the Shinkansen to Atami, and let me tell you...the Shinkansen is every bit as complicated as it's cracked up to be! Having bought what I was fairly certain was an unreserved seat from a ticket machine which said Shinkansen over it, I boarded the train. I sat in a random seat, since I couldn't find any difference between the cars to distinguish reserved from unreserved. I figured that if someone claimed I was in their seat I'd move...

Lo and behold, along came the conductor. He said that I had to pay more to sit in the reserved seat..suprise, suprise..and after trying and failing to explain that I'd rather move to the unreserved section, I gave up and paid 2100 yen..more than the original price of my return ticket...curiouser and curiouser

The festival was tons of fun. There were a lot of ALTs there and we got to wear kimonos and dance a repetitive, uncomplicated dance. Afterwards we had a 'friendship party', which turned out to be food in the upstairs room of the kimono shop. I couldn't really complain since the total cost of the whole event was only 1000 yen. After dinner we dispersed to our homestay places, though luckily I was with 4 other ALTs in this huge house on the side of a hill. We had an entire floor to ourselves, with a kitchen, a dining room, a really cool-looking shower and incredibly, 5 actual beds..and there was I thinking I'd be futon-ing it!

The next morning there was a deadly breakfast spread with rareties like normal hot tea with milk and sugar, reverse culture shock! The homestay couple had though of everything and I really felt like we should have paid them or something...especially when the guy took us on a guided tour of the area!

It transpired that he worked as a tourguide. He drove us to a lighthouse and suspension bridge on the Izu coast, where there were some amazing views. He would randomly pick leaves of trees or some interesting fruit for us to smell or taste. The culmination of this was when, during the drive to the next place, he stopped the car and climbed out, telling us that he'd be back in just a minute.

Captivated, we watched as he produced a long pole from on top of the car and approached some overhanging vegetation on the road ahead of us. He extended the pole and it turned out to be a device for cutting things off trees as he began poking in the bush snipping bits off. We were totally confused as to what was going on! Finally, actually about 5 minutes later, he returned with sprigs of 'Japanese kiwi', which looked nothing like kiwi, and which weren't ripe enough to eat yet. So random!

Unfortunately, I had to leave early that day to get home and prepare for festival my second ever Japanese festival, which was on Sunday. Armed with the knowledge that the Shinkansen cars said 'reserved' or 'unreserved' on the screens on the outside, I was feeling lucky this time. As I went to pass through the second set of turnstiles, the ones just for the Shinkansen, the conductor stopped me and said that my ticket wasn't for the Shinkansen, but just the regular train. Needless to say I was pretty suprised...I'd used an identical ticket to board it the other way. He wasn't changing his mind though so I had to get the reliable ole JR..

I suppose I'd just had JR tickets all along...that explains why it was just 2500 yen return!

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