Tuesday, July 17, 2007

neither typhoon nor rain nor poor sense of direction nor earthquake ...

... could stop an excellent weekend in Nagoya and Kyoto.

I flew down to Nagoya on Friday (a city I went to as a junior high student) to meet up with my little sister, who is returning from a European tour by way of Japan. Not the most direct route, but certainly an interesting one.

We spent the evening eating miso katsu (pork cutlet in miso sauce), watching a movie and catching up. It was a good, albeit quiet evening.

The next day we set off for Inuyama (犬山, literally dog mountain), a castle town featuring the oldest castle in Japan and just a little ways out of Nagoya. The town itself seemed kind of run down, which wasn't helped by the torrential downpour that followed us all day. Lucky us had managed to coincide with one of the strongest typhoons to make landfall in the last 50 years. So it poured the whole day. On the plus side, it kept most of the other tourists away. I was a little worried about that, seeing as this weekend was a long weekend.

The castle was lovely though, even in the rain. Conveniently, Inuyama is also an onsen town. So to warm up and relax after all the rain, we soaked in what turned out to be a very swanky onsen. We wrapped up with another Japan top three, and saw one of the most famous tea houses in Japan, Joan. It would have been a nicer stroll without all the rain, but whatever.

We made our way back into the city to find the Aichi Prefectural Gym to watch some sumo action. We only got a little lost, which extra sucked in the rain. I'm telling you, this was a serious typhoon. But we did make it.
And it was awesome. If a picture says a thousand words, here's three thousand for you.

Not knowing much about what was going on didn't hamper us too much. The energy generated by the crowd was exciting and we had a great time.
We caught the shinkansen into Kyoto, narrowly missing closures due to the typhoon. In all, we were pretty lucky. One thing we hadn't anticipated was half of Kyoto being closed to traffic due to the Gion Matsuri. We had caught a cab to get to our hotel, because I didn't want to get lost in the rain and have to wander around lugging our bags through the storm. That didn't work though, as most of the roads were closed to traffic for Gion festivities. So we got dropped... somewere, and ended up wandering around looking for the place we were staying. It was an experience. Not helping was the worlds smallest sign on the place we stayed. Which turned out to be awesome. I booked us into what is basically a family run series of apartments throughout Kyoto. So basically, we were staying in a private apartment in the middle of Kyoto. And in the middle of the Gion Festival -- one of the largest and oldest in Japan.
The next day it had stopped raining -- the typhoon had blown itself out to sea, but we took it fairly easy, visiting Kiyomizu-dera (one of my favorite temples) and shopping in the markets near our apartment. In the evening, the party was in full swing. On our way home, we watched as the streets were flooded with people. Several major roads were shut to car traffic, and the streets were packed. It was incredible to see. After some chill out time, we went out into the streets to enjoy Japanese festival food: barbequed squid, meat on sticks, takoyaki (octopus balls), okonomiyaki ("It looks like a pizza, but tastes different") and beer. Eat your heart out Stampede!
Despite being two days before the main festival, Gion was packed with people, no doubt making up for being rained out the previous night. The main feature is the floats, which are massive and ornate, complete with musicians performing traditional music from the tops. We wandered around, looking at floats until late.
The next day it was back to Hokkaido for me, via shinkansen, train, plane, and bus. I ended up missing the big festival here in my own town, which was too bad. Ah well. I also missed out on the big earthquake -- we were further south, and I didn't feel anything.
The sister arrives here in inaka on Thurday, in time for several farewell parties, and to help me clean my apartment before I go. Whee!

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