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!!


Anonymous Graham Bathgate said...

I enjoyed your writing about taiko drumming and the festival. Would you like to write a short story for inclusion in my next collection of authentic stories about Japan? Have a look at examples on
All the best, Graham

7:07 PM  
Blogger Kyra said...

Hello Graham, I don't have time to write these days but you are free to use an entry from my blog if you wish(since you asked so nicely :) ). Just include "by Kyra Weaver" and the link to my blog in the credits.

8:57 PM  

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