Journey in Japan Part 30: Dog Day, Afternoon

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Back in Tokyo, and today in Nihonbashi there is an annual festival taking place, the Fukagawa Hachiman Matsuri. It is one of the three great Shinto festivals in Tokyo and is probably the largest.

Every three years the festival is celebrated in full. Today, and only today is one of these days. There are one-hundred and twenty portable shrines, there are three hundred thousand people participating, there are half a million spectators; not a good day to be on a bicycle.

The crowds of people throw buckets of water over the people carrying the shrines, to cool them down. The festival is also known as the ‘Water Fight Festival’. It must be hard work carrying these enormous shrines in the sweltering heat; especially today, with its festival sky. I leave the crowds and explore Nihombashi for a while. I check out the famous Nihonbashi Bridge, but it doesn’t really move me.

After the festival, I decided to meet my friend Paul, a Scotsman I met back in Fukuoka. We first head to Akihabara Yodobashi Camera, an electronics chain store. This place is huge, has nine floors, and sells just about everything. Paul is shopping for headphones and this shop has thousands to choose from; the headphone display is set up in a way that you can plug them into your device and try them out. While Paul does this, I sit and play an electric piano. A homeless man sits down at the piano next to me and bursts into an amazing classical piece. He plays well, really well. It is a shame to see someone with so much talent going to waste. A real shame.

After headphones, we take a quick trip on the Yamanote Line to Yūrakuchō Station. Outside the station, we go into another massive electronics chain store, Bic Camera. Here we are in search of a fabled Casio CA53W-1. This is, of course, the classic Casio watch with a calculator. At midnight on 31st December 1999, the Casio calculator watch was the only electronic device in the world to be challenged by the famous Millennium Bug. Widespread panic ensued when everyone with this watch travelled back in time to the year one-thousand. Watch not found, we give up and take the train back to Akihabara.

There was me, that is Luke, and my droog, that is Paul, and we sat in the Akihabara Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.

We decide on a video games arcade. Paul wins a t-shirt on a Crane Claw machine and gives it to me as a present. After burning through a few thousand Yen, we go to play some of the ‘classic’ shooting games. The game we choose is a cross between your traditional shooting-monsters-with-a-gun type game and a dance game where you hit buttons according to the rhythm. The game also boasts a very in-depth storyline.

The game is, of course, the amazing, ‘Sailor Zombie: AKB48’.

The members of girl idol band AKB48 have been turned into zombies, and it is our job to kill them. My favourite part is when the zombies all stop attacking us and randomly burst into song and dance, thus triggering the rhythm game. We play through 15 continues, maybe an hour passes, before giving up and heading to Asakusa for a festival.

For the last few days, the Obon festival has been taking place in Japan. A 500-year-old Buddhist festival with an emphasis on the dead. Today is the final day of Obon, and the Asakusa Summer Night Festival is taking place. The event first started in 1946, just after the end of the second World War. It started as a way for people to say goodbye to those who perished. I arrive before the opening ceremony, and the bridge is already overflowing with tourists.

The Japanese name for this event is Tōrō Nagashi, literally translating to ‘flow of lanterns’. Here you can buy a small paper lantern for ¥1500. The lantern represents the soul of a dead relative. You can write a message on the lantern, queue up, then release it into the water. I find it all very abstruse.

As the lanterns float down the Sumida River, the dead return to the other world, at last. A certain gloom hangs the air, adding to my macabre.

After the festival, Paul and I head to a Japanese bar that is hidden away behind Sensō-ji. There are probably ten small bars in this area, all with three to four bar stools. I have wanted to drink in one of these secret bars for quite some time, but never had the courage to enter alone. If I gave you directions to this area, I doubt you would even be able to find it, the place is really well hidden, and my directions really are terrible.

We decide on a little bar called Tom². This bar boasts five bar stools and is massive in comparison to the other bars in the area. ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’ by Kiss bellows from the speakers. Two Japanese men take up two of the stools, and we join them on two others. The barman is slightly drunk. We order a Highball and a beer for ¥500 a piece, and are treated to complimentary peanuts.

Then a dog appears.

The dog is so friendly and comes and sits with us. It turns out that Tsutomo, the owner, lives above the bar. We stay for a while, I out-drink Paul and he eventually leaves. I stay for two more. The two Japanese guys here speak very little English, and the dog doesn’t really talk much. I sit, drinking mostly in silence, looking at a dog. An atypical end to the evening.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, which not only features one of my proudest pun titles, but also explores love dolls, one of the strangest aspects of Japanese Culture by clicking here.

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