Day 10: Osaka to Tokushima and Awa Odori
Checked out of the hotel and discovered that what had taken 30 minutes to hunt down the previous night was only a 30 second walk from the railway station; if only the hotel had bothered to provide directions! Caught a local train (a "thunderbird") from Shin-Osaka to Osaka itself. Quite often the main station of a town isn't suitable for the Shinkansen (it might not be a "through" station, or might not be possible to build the line elevated, etc) so you end up with "Shin-" stations on the outskirts of town. Osaka station itself is massive and extremely complicated to find your way around. There is a north and south tower and sometimes things will be on floor "B1F". I was ravenous and wanted something to munch, but could only find ponsy cafes. Eventually I found a food directory and the only place that wasn't going to cost the earth was Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Had to laugh at that. Ordered three yummy looking doughnuts and went to find a table only there were none, so ended up sitting next to a bunch of Ohio-ians. Makes sense that I would find a bunch of yanks at a Krispy Kreme shop! We had a good chat, they were all working at Honda a few hours out of Tokyo but had come down here to enjoy the doughnuts and see the sights. They were immensely jealous of my JR Pass; they are on work visas and so don't qualify, and had spent an entire day journeying down on local trains, while I had cruised down in just 3 hours!
My chocolate, (something else), and "real banana" doughnuts were soon gone and gosh were they yummy; one of my local friends here, Aiko, had recommended Krispy Kreme over the usual Mr Donut and she is definitely right! I went and found my bus stop and noted that all trips to Tokushima were full. Right on time my bus turned up. I loaded my bag in the bottom of the bus and joined the queue. I got to the front and presented my ticket but suddenly things got ugly! My ticket wasn't enough! The bus driver wanted more but what more did I have!? I showed him my JR Pass and got a very strong "NO! NO JR PASS! JR BUS! No JR Pass!" Eeeek, what on earth!? The lady at Ueno hadn't said anything about this! After a bit more confusion he told me to stand to one side and he dealt with the rest of the passengers. One sympathetic english speaker said that I needed a ticket receipt, but I didn't have anything. I was quite confused cos how could I have a seat reservation but no ticket???
Waiting for the bus.
Once the driver had dealt with everyone he tried telling me some more that my JR Pass was not enough, even though it seemed to say on the JR Pass that it was valid for JR Bus lines too. i stood there rather confused and as the clock ticked the bus driver beckoned for me to follow him (which is quite a different hand symbol to what we use here and looked more like a "stay put" signal) and he sprinted down to the JR Bus office with me in hot pursuit. We cut straight to the front of the queue and he jabbered quickly to the JR Bus ticket person who clicked some buttons and up came a prince, 3600 Yen ($NZ48). I had to get to Tokushima so gave him a 5000 yen note. As I was doing this the bus driver ran off and I thought he was going to get me put on another bus and drive off; not what I wanted when my passport, laptop, etc were sitting in the bottom of his bus!!! I ran off after him and tried to indicate that I needed my backpack but he make visual ticket signs and pointed back at the ticket office! Eeeek! I dashed back, grabbed my ticket and change and sprinted down the platform to the bus which thankfully hadn't left yet! I felt utterly horrible because he was now 8 minutes late and I know what they're like about time keeping. He didn't seem very interested in my ticket and so I took my seat and off we went.
The ride itself was utterly boring, although I spent the first 30 minutes getting my breath back and heart rate back to normal! JR Bus? Never again, I'll stick to the trains thankyou, at least I understand them.
We seemed to spend an eternity driving along highways and crossing bridges.
The highways were quite boring. A lot of them had noise barriers so all you could see was highway. I had no idea where I was, but figured this might be the crossing from Honshu to Shikoku, i.e. from one island to another. Not as big a distance as I thought, in fact I could easily get both islands in one photo.
Three hours later we arrived at Tokushima. I was gald the bus ride was finally over but there was one hurdle left: on exiting we had to present our tickets. What??? Was not used to this. I dug into my wallet and found about a thousand Shinkansen seat reservations, but not a single bus ticket. I searched everything . I couldn't remember what I had done with it, and the poor bus driver knew I had it, but goodness knows where. I felt utterly horrible now, this stupid gaijin (alien) had delayed him once already and was now compounding things even further! Luckily after about 10 minutes he had the brainwave to check my seat on the bus and came back 30 seconds later. Not sure how I had missed that, I was sure I'd checked my seat before leaving.
So finally I had escaped from the bus. Dear god! Makes quite a change from JR where I just have to flash my pass, half the time I don't even stop walking, I just slow down and they wave me through. Even the various metro systems are easy, just put in your ticket to the gate and walk on through, so easy.
I sighed and looked around. Hello Tokushima. Hot and muggy. What to do? I went and visited the garden to kill some time…
Of course I had to cross the railway in the process so snapped some photos of JR Shikoku, which is a mainly diesel operation, using everything from buckets of bolts, to pretty fancy tilting diesel multiple units. This is one of their tiling trains.
I had a bit of a look around the gardens; from what I could tell they were formerly the site of a castle and so had moats, defensive walls, even a mini mountain that the castle sat atop of. What struck me first though was the unfortunate Englishification the local drink company had chosen…
Pocari Sweat became something of an in-joke over the next few days. For the curious it isn't actually bottled sweat, but is instead an "ion and electrolyte" replacing sports drink that tastes a lot like barley water. It is big in Tokushima!
I wandered round in the stinking humidity. Here is part of the moat:
Tree lined paths, and a bridge to a skyscraper.
Statue of what appears to be a boy peeing on a pidgeon?
There were some Japanese gardens in the park so I paid my 50 yen and went in for a look. They were ok, I've seen better, ironically in Portland, Oregon (USA).
I continued on my way and sat down in a shady part of the park to cool down. It was now raining, though it was hard to tell above the humidity. My hands were starting to really play up and I had developed a horrible heat rash, little red bumps all over my hands and fingers; the average witch had prettier hands than I was currently sporting! Some quick googling that night suggested it was a not entirely understood reaction to abnormal heat and sweating. Whatever it was my hands were very sensitive and brushing them against, for example, a zipper was quite painful.
While I sat and pondered my hands I noticed the mozzies had found me and were leaving fresh marks. These guys weren't quite as viscious as the Asahidake ones in Hokkaido but still, grrr! On a lighter note I found a cricket that was massive , about 2 inches long!
To escape the mozzies I decided to climb to the top of the mini mountain. What a fun hike in the heat and humidty! I was petty dead by the time I got to the top and there wasn't a whole lot to see either.
Defensive wall around the top; quite high and immaculate rock work. The top.
From the top I could hear music and so wandered back down, washed off some of the sweat from my arms at a handy drinking fountain and headed off for the NHK building.
NHK is the national broadcaster and wow they had some fancy camera gear! The rig above was on some kind of "tripod" that looked more like a barstool. Whatever it was, the operator lady was able to effortlessly make amazing smooth pans and lifts, and move forward and back, all without any sign of vibration. I wonder what cost more, the tripod or the camera?
I should mention what they were filming; Tokushima is famous for its Awa Odori festival, a 4 day long dance festival that attracts nearly 2 million extra people to Tokushima every year. Awa Odori is a dance style that is unlike anything I've seen before, but is quite amazing to watch.
It has quite a few components. Perhaps most importantly is this guy:
He is in charge of timing, and beats his mini-gong to seat the beat. It sounds a bit like a cow bell. He is the "conductor" of the rest of the band, that typically consists of several drummers playing a number of different styles of drum (bass, faster "tigher" ones, and a hollow bamboo one that doesn't have any skins), some flutes, and a few people playing a three-string Japanese string instrument, a bit like a guitar.
And then there are the dancers. Men and women are both have important roles here. There is a "men's dance" and a "girl's dance" although a lot of women do the men's dance too. The men generally seem to be dressed less elaborately than the females.
One of the women who chooses to do the men's dance.
And why, might you ask, am I in the middle of 2 million people watching a dance festival? Well within minutes of her instructions to me, this girl appeared on stage:
This is Anna, a friend of mine and former UCanDancer who has been teaching English in Tokushima for a year now. Luckily our schedules aligned on this trip and so it was with great excitement that in the middle of 2 million people and several hundred Awa Odori dance groups, that I managed to find her!
After her group had finished their dances, they public were invited to join in and together they did several loops doing the basic footwork and hand actions.
Afterwards I chased after Anna's group and walked up beside her and casually said "konnichiwa". She turned and burst into a huge grin and we had a huge hug in the middle of the road. I followed them round and generally enjoyed being able to talk to people again. She introduced me to another Enlish teacher and her neighbour, Miranda, who comes from England. Here they both are on the left during one of their many photo requests. Anna has amazing blonde hair and pale skin, something the locals do not see much of in Tokushima!
As you can see their costumes are stunning. They have lovely purple and green komonos, and these amazing hats. Even their hair is perfect! I had fun following them around, soaking up the atmosphere, swapping stories and snapping photos. Suddenly the drama of the bus ride was worth it.
I followed them back to their club house and was invited inside. They had a few hours to kill and a massive feast had been laid out. We sat around on the tatami mats (woven grass mats that cover the floor, they're beautifully soft and clean feeling) and in no time at all they were passing me food, rice, water and even beer. Within seconds of seeing Anna one of the younger kids in the group had come up to us and asked if I was Anna's boyfriend! Anna had to pause for a second while she worked out what "boyfriend" was in Japanese and then burst out laughing and said no, just friends, to which the answer apparently was "are you sure?". The little girl, undeterred, then asked if I was Miranda's boyfriend!
Back at the club house everyone was starting to get ready again and then we moved off to the next venue.
One of the things that really struck me about this group were how friendly they were, they were like one big extended family. While waiting for their next performance they would all joke around, take photos of each other, even try their hand at the various instruments.
Two of the youngsters, in an iconically Japanese photo pose.
Soon it was time for their next dance, this time on a floating stage.
Note the millions of people…
As you can see there are many different costumes, even within the same group. Look closely and you'll see the women have strange wooden clogs that are shaped like a π – flat shoe on top and two bits that stick down. Not exactly a practical shoe, and Anna's were wearing down at an alarming rate, and in an alarmingly uneven fashion.
We finished there and moved on. Naturally with 2 million extra people there were street food stalls everywhere , selling all manner of things. Anna's personal recommendation was (can't remember the name), it consisted of shaved ice and syrup flavouring and was very nice! Several of us had some, and then moments later they were called up on stage, so I was left clutching four tubs of shaved ice! I got some weird looks!
The city had been dressed up amazingly and there was no shortage of decorations.
Were there many people? You be the judge..!!
(Note the guy with the step ladder…)
Anna and Miranda were popular photo subjects throughout the night.
They danced at more venues. Their final one was under what looks like a giant sausage.
We headed back to the club house and soon their night was over. I sat outside in the cooler night air and watched as the younger ones zoomed off on their bicycles and the older ones emerged in their normal clothes.
Anna, Miranda and myself headed off back to their town, Anan. Even though it is only 25km away, it took us nearly an hour to get there, thanks to their endless maze of roads.
Eventually we arrived at Anna's and she showed me the neighbours rice patch, her little vege garden and told me about her neighbour who often gives her fertilizer and garden advice. Given that we hadn't really had dinner we had a wholesomely-kiwi meal of cornies and milk. I wasn't allowed into her Weetbix supply, Anna reckons she has about 75% of the entire Japanese supply of Weetbix in her cupboard!
It was now quite late and so we went to bed. I was worried I wouldn't sleep because of the heat (it was still around 30 degrees inside ) and we had the doors open to get some "cooler" air in. All around I could hear an intense chorus of frogs. I don't know if they ever sleep. Within seconds of closing my eyes I was asleep and slept soundly all night; if you're tired enough you can sleep through anything!