In a town called Saijo, just outside of Hiroshima there is a massive sake festival. That region is home to many old distilleries and every year a large festival is held for people to sip its glory and try a number of different types from all over Japan. It really is a big event, so the hotels and hostels tend to fill up; the previous year our hesitation kept is from participating. This time around, we knew it was something we wanted to do, so we booked everything well ahead of time. It is held on a three day weekend, so getting there early afternoon on Saturday still afforded us plenty of time to enjoy the area. I went with Ryan, and we both had no interest in seeing the same peace memorials and monuments as we saw previous two times to Hiroshima, the same ones that everyone sees. So the plan was to get out of the city for two days, and then enjoy sake to our heart’s content on the other.
We arrived by bus and checked in at our hostel. We were taking our time when one of our friends who had come earlier informed us that we needed to enter the gates by 4pm. Considering the event went until 10pm, this really caught us off guard. We caught a taxi and did a mad dash through the station, only to miss a train that would have still gotten us there late by moments. Some quick thinking had Ryan and myself on a train to Iwakuni for the late afternoon. This unplanned trip did managed to bring us to Yamaguchi prefecture, which is another piece of Japan I can now check off of my list.
Laughing. Ryan’s Shirt.
Sure, our friends thought that we were lame for not making it to the sake festival with them, but we did have the chance to see something new and cool instead. Also, the night before was a work party for each of us, so a day to normalize was much appreciated. We arrived after a 45 minute train to a smaller town. After a short bus ride and a walk, we could see the main attraction. A gorgeous bridge that in olden days could only be trafficked by samurai. Originally built entirely from wood, after being washed away a few times by the river it spans, they opted to modernize with concrete. We had to pay to cross, but on the other side had a nice shrine surrounded with beautiful grounds. We just walked around a bit and enjoyed the space before finally opting to head back. We retraced our steps back to the station, got some Hotto Motto fast food, and hopped aboard a train to rejoin our friends in Hiroshima.
When we arrived back in town, everything had changed completely. It was now overrun by foreigners – the loud, annoying, drunk kind. It was a great reminder that the people I called friends were beyond the talking much too loudly on the trains, making scenes on the streets, and just enacting what is commonly known as Gaijin Smash. I was really put off by a number of the people who started talking to our group, since I don’t like being associated so much we people who don’t know how properly to conduct themselves in Japan.
After bumbling about for too long, we found ourselves at a bar called MAC. This turned out to be a really cool place that played any song you requested, they had thousands of CDs on hand. We had a bit of a dance party going and met a few very strange people. We stayed here till late in the night before tackling the long walk home. On the way, we walked past the atomic bomb dome in the Peace Park, which looked pretty cool lit up against the night sky. It was also a bit eerie to be walking around in such a place with no one else around. Once home, we got some much needed sleep.
The next day, we were sure to make it to the festival on time. In addition to Ryan and myself, a few of the other teachers from Kagawa joined us for the festivities. As soon as we were off the train, there were masses of people, festival food carts, and a merry spirit everywhere. After fighting the crowds, we paid our 20 dollar entry ticket, which got us a small sake glass and rights to try as much as we pleased. This was a very good thing, as there were over 1,000 varieties from every prefecture in Japan. I’m not a sake connoisseur by any means though, so to me many of them tasted the same, or at least insignificantly different.
The crew together
With so many to try, I didn’t settle on any one that I found myself to like, but kept trying as many as I could stomach. As this was all going on, we were meeting a great number of interesting people. Japanese people were coming from everywhere to try out there English skills on us, apparently having some extra boost of confidence. The best guy was someone who had studied in Arizona. Someone joking with him that he was probably gay, which really put him on the defensive. He started bragging about his porn star ex-girlfriend and even had pictures to prove it. We all laughed as these characters came and went, as well as the myriad of states those around us were in. After a couple hours the event ended and we made our way back home.
One of the numerous sake tents
The train was loud and crowded, but we made it back at last. We had some of the famous Hiroshima Okonomiyaki, which is like a noodle pancake. My company was in the mood to do some karaoke, which I was hesitant to commit to. But, when I learned that 20 dollars would get us bottomless drinks, soup and ice cream(!!), I was sold. I’ve never had all I could eat ice cream at karaoke before. Bohemian Rhapsody was probably our best showing of the night. Again, we made our way home rather late in the night.
Finally, it was the last day of this great weekend trip. Again looking to see some new things, I got us over to the Mitaki Temple, which I had read was beautiful. This was only Ryan, Lorraine and myself going, but it would turn out to be well worth our while. It was much more beautiful than many of the temples that I see. Built up on the side of a forested mountain, and also having three waterfalls, it really was a unique place. I also saw people ladling water onto statues before offering their prayers, which was something I hadn’t ever seen before.
Eventually Lorraine turned back as she had an earlier bus to catch, but Ryan and myself pressed on through a 1 hour hiking loop that went further up the mountain. It was really hot, and I was woefully unprepared for the hike but some strangers gave us bottles of sports drink, for no reason other than that Japanese people are awesome. During the hike, highlights included an incredible bamboo forest with the girthiest pole I’d ever seen, and an unobstructed view out over all of Hiroshima.
Some combination of Pride Rock and philosophy
After a wrong turn, we found ourselves walking down through an area of town that apparently didn’t see many foreigners. A few people stopped us to ask where we were from. Eventually we found a station, rode back to Hiroshima and waited for our bus. The only thing of note before we left was that we went to a foreign foods store where I was able to get some Dr. Pepper, balsamic vinegar and Pop Rocks. That sure felt good.
The trip home was uneventful, but after such an action packed weekend, that sat fine with me. The trip really helped to solidify my desire to make the most of three day weekends. Whether it be with my friends or with Kanako, I want to use these extended breaks to see as much of Japan as possible before I’m out of here.