Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dosoujin Fire Festival Part 1: Getting there

As our butts were being massaged by the buzz of tire chains vibrating up through the tightened suspension, the struts, shock absorbers, and finally through the seat mounts and cushions, creating a deafening hum, we gazed through the clouded windows at the whitened landscape surrounding Takeshi's Subaru.

On either side huge drifts were threatening to wall us in on the painstakingly snowplowed road, which was already covered with hardpacked frozen crystals. "Onsen hairite~!" Takeshi complained from the driver's seat, where truthfully he was having a much harder time of it than I was, even though the constant vibration was working through my cranium and threatening to give me a massive headache.

But that wasn't the only reason I couldn't complain. The much more important one was that this whole trip had been my idea.
"We can take as many hotspring baths as you like once we get there. Our hotel even has one," I commented, looking at the white specks drift through aspen trees and float serenely by the car. I tried to take another picture of the sun, shrouded and hazy behind the snow clouds.
Takeshi sighed. Of course he knew the details. Nozawa Onsen is a sleepy village famous for its hotsprings, ski resort, and once a year, the Dosoujin Matsuri, the reason I wanted to go in the first place.

Finally 60 km and several hours later (of going thirty km/h in the snow), we pulled into a labyrinth of small streets, flooded with water being used by its residents in a desperate effort to keep the roads clear of the still heavy snow. We were directed up to the hotel I had booked by the GPS navigation in the car.
'according to this, the hotel is practically on the ski slope' I tried to reasure the anxious driver. Indeed, the GPS system was leading us up past a group of skiiers in full gear, higher and higher up the hill.
It was leading us energetically on to a street that was blocked to the public and only open to snowmobiles. Whoopsidasies.
Well, after a lot of headscratching and rolling down the windows and asking people on the streets , we gave up and called the hotel.
Apparently you can't actually park at our hotel, as your car requires, just to get there, some crazy modified tires that resemble mini tanks.
We dutifully drove back to town and parked in the hotel's parking lot.
Getting to the hotel involved a ride on the world's longest escalator from the town to the ski slopes. (do I kid? I'm not sure. It was over 1 kilo in length.) The escalator (called the 'Yu' road, '遊' for play) was in this giant plastic tube that allowed a panoramic view of the forest it was mounted over. It was kind of amazing.

Anyways, we got to the hotel intact, and discovered the benefits of staying in a hotel located in the middle of goddamn nowhere: it was huuuge. And our room was more like a suite. And directly downstairs were the hotsprings, large indoor pools with volcanically heated mineral water piped in, with the bonus of an outdoor jacuzzi style bath if you wanted it.
It was truly sublime sitting in that jacuzzi, watching the snow float serenely by, the last of the sunlight filter through the evergreens... and covering up evey time a skier whizzed by for a closer look...
okay okay I made that last part up, we were facing away from the slope and there were no skiiers. Only the odd nature photographer. ;)

After we were all rested up, it was still a while until the festival started, so we tried to get back to town to do a little sightseeing before it got dark. Since we were on the slope, there was actually a little ski lift right next to our hotel that went directly there.
'Why doesn't anyone take this? it looks so convienent!' we thought as we consulted the map. It was much shorter route.
We soon found out this was because it was a rickety two seater death trap that had no a. side bars b. hand rails c. anything to keep you in your seat. Just a ski lift shuttling old planks of wood at scary speeds high over the forest floor, cliffs, creeks...
we held on to each other for dear life and tried not to look down.

Having reached the bottom in one peice, we ran around through the flooded streets, finding goodies like winter mottled sake and hotspring-boiled eggs, hot sweet bean buns, and the world's sweetest apples, we ran back up to the 'Yu' road about a minute before it closed for the night. There was no question about getting back up via ski lift, thank-you-very-much.

We got back to the hotel in time for dinner, where the owner/proprietor made a big deal, bringing out the 'no meat, execept for fish?!' dinner. Ah well, I guess they don't have the thing with the "gluten free, non-dairy, organic, vegetables farmed only on certain crop cycles etc. etc." pain in the ass order style like we have in the US, and are not used to picky eaters. She gave a raised eyebrow, saying 'the gravy is meat based, should I remove that too?' and when I said yes, gave the prim expression and slow sigh that goes with all-enduring waitstaff.
'wagamama de sumimasen, ne!' I smiled, busting out another one of those useful phrases you can use in a million situations in japan. Wagamama, in addition to being an adorable word (I dare you to say it ten times fast), means 'selfish', kinda.
Like, someone who does whatever they want despite other people's opinions.
Cats are often described in this way.

But after my deliciouly 'wagamama' non-(mammal/bird)meat meal, an announcement came on over the intercom that the shuttles would be departing for the festival. We rushed to get ready (stuffing ourselves into layers upon layers of winter wear), crammed about eighteen people into the back of a hollowed-out tank-tired van, and zoomed off, hearts beating, in anticipation of giant fires and free sake an ancient religious ritual being traditionally upheld. We were all very excited.

To be continued.... bu bu bum!!

Friday, January 14, 2011


So! Sorry about that last post staying up so long. I was really hoping that leaving it up would somehow make the TSA notice and take down their stupid scanners before I went home. ... weellll that didn't happen, but at least I didn't have to go through any.

I went home! For the first time in two and a half years! And, my darling friends, if you're wondering why Kyra didn't mention this to you, the little ingrate, it's because I was only home for four days, two of which I was in sacramento and portland. When you don't go home for two and a half years, you are automatically obligated to see family first, or be threatened to be beheaded with a dull spoon, or something rather more painful.

But luckily for me I have wonderful family I love to visit. After visiting the awesome hostel in SF my sister manages, having dinner at a chinese restaurant with my parents and watching dad show off on the guitar, and I gave them the generous gift from the in-laws (they gave me a bunch of money and forced me to buy a present , a nice one, made in japan, that they would like, in a week! heh.)

The next day the rest of my extended family just happened to take it upon themselves to arrange two reunions, one in Sacramento, then a short plane ride up to Portland later we had a huge reunion and convened ten members in the same spot, most of whom I hadn't seen in over five years.
... kids really change a lot in five years! (But we knew that already.)

We talked about nerdy things, did magic tricks I brought from Japan with barely understandable english instructions, and ate lots of delicious homemade food, and drank dangerously delicious drinks until it got late. It was a nice excuse for everyone to get together after the busy holidays when they had all had their own separate plans, and there was still a tree up, and one of my uncles conveniently had a birthday three days earlier, so we got birthday cake as a bonus.

After the hilarious 'magic show', some of us adults went out to a bar and had more drinks. And much needed family bonding heart to heart talks. And then the bar closed, and other family members went to bed. So ... we went to another bar. The kind with ... dancing girls. (!) More drinks and bonding later, I sort of happened to fall off a bar stool, ( because of my simultaneous speech impediment, inner ear infection, and stomach flu ;)), and we got kicked out, which was probably for the best because the next day I had a flight to catch... a tiny plane, with propellers, that ran from Portland to San Jose.
Thanks to my pounding hangover, combined with jetlag, it felt like I was sitting *on the propeller*... but there was this amazing view of mount hood, mount shasta, the coast, and we flew low over san francisco and got great shots of the bay. Then my cousin picked us up and she was kind enough to drive us wherever my little heart desired, which was mostly Palo Alto. (I was very excited to find a gamestop there, as I had some shopping to do! ;))

Then, my last night in town, Mom decided the best thing to do was to go see Tron, which I hadn't seen yet because I thought it would be a big cheesy 3D effect soulless thing... was I wrong! It was awesome. ok, a little cheesy, a lot of SFX, but also nerdy in a good way, with a lot of soul. Maybe a little like my family, ;)

On the way home I found my lane in the airport was being sucked into one of the two backscatter scanners I've been complaining about, and if I were a little faster on my feet I could have gotten into a different line, but between my haziness from jetlag and a little subliminal masochism, I didn't do anything and found myself face to face with the Evil Naked Scanner of Doom! (dum dum duuummm). I just stood there, not moving, until the guy tried to wave me in it.

I just stood there and shook my head, and said, quote, 'I ain't going though that thing'. I was then shouted out, and it took me a moment to realize I was being shouted at to put my scarf through the baggage scanner, not to go through the ENSoD. I complied, and then realized there was a normal metal detector slightly to the right of the scanner. The tsa guy tried to point me through the scanner, but I shook my head, and then gestured at the metal detector with a hopeful look on my face, and he sighed and waved me through.

So I won! Take that stupid TSA. haha. ;) *achem*. But The Important thing is. I loves my family! They're awesome. Hope I see the again soon. ^_^