Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fireworks in Ashikaga

Last Saturday, totally against my better judgment, I let myself be talked into a trip to Ashikaga. To watch fireworks. Yes, I know, I know… Fireworks are fun and all that. And don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy them. Sometimes. I remember this one occasion in New York when we all got together, made a massive sashimi platter – specially designed to look like a massive American flag (radish and tuna for the stripes and squid and fish eggs for the stars bit), and then ate it and watched the 4th of July fireworks over the river.

Now, those were some fireworks! That puny little thing in Ashikaga (even though supposedly the most splendid display in the whole Tochigi prefecture) simply couldn’t compare.

Trust me, it wasn’t my idea to go there. MY Saturday plans consisted of such exciting activities as shopping at a 100 yen shop, snacking on garlic toast (weekend is the only time when I can indulge my appetite for smelly foods) and sleeping. But since the husband wanted to go and made those puppy eyes, and even charged my camera, I gave up and said “OK, but this is a bad idea, and you’ll see that I’m right.”

So, we got on the train (Tobu line) to Tochigi and realized that even though this was the Miya festival weekend in Utsunomiya, equal numbers of yukata-dressed people were leaving town as heading downtown. "Hmmm… where the heck are they all going," I thought to myself, while trying to club a particularly unruly child with my tripod. To Ashikaga, that’s where!

At Tochigi it was clear that the circus was already in town. Everybody, their mother and a horde of rabid dogs were swarming on the platform waiting for the Ashikaga train (JR Ryomo line). (Note to the group of foreign men dressed in Japanese style attire we had to stand next to on the train: no matter how fancy you think you look, for the love of everything that is dear, please take a shower and apply deodorant before leaving home. Otherwise, you just do your part to perpetuate the belief that all foreign men stink. And boy, did you stink!)

Ashikaga expected to welcome about a hundred thousand visitors that day and it seemed as if all of them were riding into town on the same train as us. And once in town, finding the fireworks place was easy – we just followed the masses who looked like they knew where they were going.

Crowds 2

Just follow the crowd

I’m very sad to report that Ashikaga was totally unprepared for the event (regardless of what the city officials might have said) – there weren’t any trash bins around, so people simply disposed of their garbage and food wrappers where they liked; the choice of food stands was poor and the quality even worse; and the cops, well don’t even get me started on the cops – rude bastards – they told me I couldn’t stay on the bridge and watch the show from there and ordered me to move, but oddly enough they didn’t utter a word to any Japanese people there. And when I pretended not to understand, I got screamed at in Engrish. (Note to the Ashikaga city officials – you guys really need to work on those language skills - if your cops are going to insult a foreign woman, at least they should be able to do so using proper grammar and correct vocabulary.)

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, it started to rain. Now, I don’t know about you, but watching fireworks in the rain is not my idea of fun. But we stood there bravely getting wet and valiantly protecting our cameras from water damage.

The show was OK. But just barely. We (and about a couple thousand other people) decided to leave early and make a beeline for the station. The idea was to catch an earlier train out, but apparently everybody else had the same ingenious plan. People were pushy, rude and nasty (so much for the polite Japanese myth), and wet and tired. And when I saw a row of young strapping Japs comfortably sitting down and fiddling with their cell phones on the train, while a group of octogenarians was barely holding on standing up, I thought I was going to blow a gasket. I guess my age must be showing, because such behavior really bothers me, regardless of the country it happens in.

Anyway, this was supposed to be about fireworks in Ashikaga, and not about my very own self-righteous ass.

So, here you go, a few lame photos.

Fireworks bt

There was no wind to blow away the smoke.

Fireworks 1
But people still oohed and aahed from time to time.

Fireworks 5

I won’t be going there next year. And this year, we should have gone to see the Miya fest on both days. That will teach me.

PS. The most entertaining show in Ashikaga turned out to be a bunch of really bad Elvis impersonators dancing in the street by the train station:

Elvis lives

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