Journey in Japan Part 32: Pyrotechnics and Parade

Journey in Japan Part 32: Pyrotechnics and Parade

I wake up at 5am to the sound of a drunk man in our dormitory room. He spends fifteen minutes trying to open his locker, before giving up and leaving the room. It’s nights like these that I wish I was in a hotel. An hour later the same guy that doesn’t know how to open a locker comes back and spends fifteen minutes trying to climb the ladder to his bed, which of course, is the bed above mine.

More noise at eight. Two people packing and re-packing their cases, loudly, stamping around, loudly. I give up on sleep and get up, tired and annoyed. I kill time, drink coffee, then go to a café at nine, for more coffee. Despite drinking a lot of coffee, I still feel drained. The hot weather adding to my exhaustion. I lazily stroll through the mid-morning Asakusa streets. There is an artist on the street using spray paint to create science-fiction themed space art. He goes from blank canvas to beautiful planetscape in a matter of minutes. Incredible.

I continue wandering. One guy raises his hand above his head as I walk past, “Woah! You are too tall!” he exclaims, much to my amusement. I head back to where the street performers gather, and watch a yo-yo master skillfully Split the Atom.

Back at the hostel I write up non-events, then kill time playing Baldur’s Gate on my camera. At 3pm I still have no energy but need to get out of the hostel, I decide to head to Chōfu. I take the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line to Shibuya. On the way I hop off at Nihombashi Station for a ¥300 smoothie (orange and ginger), then back on the next train three minutes later.

I cross Shibuya crossing and take a shortcut through Yoyogi Park. My shortcut is somewhat obstructed by the Super Yosakoi dance festival. The entrance to Yoyogi Park event open space is blocked by hundreds of people dancing in the street.

The dancing here is actually quite good, the music catchy and rhythmic. The stage here is in use too, people in traditional clothing wave flags and dance to very similar music to that of the street dancers. I take the ten minute walk to Harajuku Station, trying to get away from the crowds. My plan is a shortcut through the forests surrounding the peaceful Meiji Shrine.

My shortcut is somewhat obstructed by the crowds of people that gather at the entrance to the shrine. A stage has been erected here and more people are dancing. The Super Yosakoi dance festival is everywhere. The music from the speakers here is so loud that I actually have to walk with my fingers in my ears. A one way system through the grounds of the Meiji Shrine is also in place.

Halfway through my route through the shrine grounds, a third stage is active, and features more dancing and loud live music. There is a sign with a big red cross over a picture of a camera, I presume it to mean, “No photography,” yet everyone seems to be taking photographs. Very odd, perhaps I have been misinterpreting this sign all of these years.

I leave the Meiji Shrine and head toward Shinjuku Station. It is another hot day, and I have another ten minutes walk to endure in the heat. Somehow, as this realisation of the temperate comes to mind, a stranger in the street hands me a fan. At Shinjuku Station I get a little lost but eventually find my way to the entrance to the Keio Line. A million other people have decided to take this train too. I take the second train that pulls in, as there is no room on the first. As I am pushed into the carriage, I see that the crowd behind me spills up the steps and beyond. It appears the whole of Tokyo are following me to Chōfu.

The Special Express train makes just one other stop between Shinjuku and Chōfu, and I arrive promptly at 6pm. I follow the swarms of people to the Tamagawa River. Just as I arrive at the river, there is an explosion in the sky.

Today is the annual Chōfu City Fireworks Festival. It runs for an hour and includes 8,000 fireworks. I have a pretty decent spot and enjoy the spectacle. Along the river little stores sell street food, and even Lawson Stores and Seven Eleven are getting in on the action. They have beers for sale outside floating in big ice buckets, and they have moved their hot food counters to the front of their stores.

The fireworks are impressive, although very stop-and-start. A lot of fireworks are launched at once, then nothing happens for twenty or so seconds, then lots of fireworks at once, et cætera. Every time a big explosion occurs, everyone around me says, “Sugoiii,” “Sugoi,” and “Oh, Sugoi!” This word means, ‘amazing’ in English, and seems to be the only word that the Japanese people here use to describe the fireworks. They certainly were amazing.

At 19:11 I head back to the station; the fireworks will continue for another twenty minutes or so, but I really don’t like the idea of getting back on a packed train. It seems everyone else has had the same idea; once again the station is packed. I am not proud of it, but when the doors finally open, I dash to grab a ‘Priority Seat’. These seats are intended for pregnant, elderly and disabled people. I feel somewhat less guilty when the other seven Priority Seats are taken by youths.

Back in Shinjuku I change to the Marunuchi Line and take it as far as Ginza, before switching to the Ginza Line. I arrive back in Asakusa around eight.

I meet with some friends and we head to a nearby British pub ran by actual British people. They brew their own beer here, play British music, and serve by the pint. I go for the porter; nice but expensive at ¥1000. ‘Empty at the End’ by The Electric Soft Parade comes on at some point in the evening; my mind ends up in Brighton.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I watch the Battle of the Udon, a  Brazilian Rio Carnival, and explore the Temple of the Flying God by clicking here.

Or alternatively, click here to begin the journey from part one.

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From England, Luke is a writer and editor living on the edge of Tokyo. He enjoys finding the strange and wonderful amongst the seemingly mundane moments of everyday life and travel, and writing about them.

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