9 November 2012

V in Japan - Day 10

Day 10: Kyoto and the Kurama Fire Festival

  • Date: October 22:
  • Weather: Sunny and warm
  • Mood: Ready to thrash some ATM machines

Getting Cash

Today the plan is the Kurama Fire Festival (Kurama no Hi-Matsuri). Last evening, Steven informed himself (and later us as well) about the actual festival activities.

He mentioned that the Fire festival was split into two pieces. One cultural procession march in Kyoto itself and the Fire thing in the evening in Kurama village. Steven got a tip for the Kurama part "Leave early, come back late" and a warning that there aren't any shops or restaurants over there (so better buy something to drink and eat in advance).

The procession march in Kyoto itself is nice to see some clothing styles from back in the days. But since Steven and Francis weren't that interested in looking at a slow procession march, we skipped that part and decided to visit the Kiyumizu-dera temple instead (honestly, I dunno if I would've liked it or not, so I agreed to skipping it).

So after waking up, we went to the Zen cafe (at K’s House), where you can get a breakfast buffet for 630 yen. Steven didn't like it that much (he’d rather fancy Japanese breakfast), but Francis and I quite liked it.

After breakfast, we walked back to the station, to find the ATM. On the way there, we were joined by a (very social) German guy that was also staying at K’s house for that night. The German was here under the system of WWOOFing, where people provide shelter and food in exchange for work. He explains he currently stayed at a farm and had his day off. He mentioned that he would work in a game store in a few weeks. In the few days he has off, he can explore the environment. So he was here to experience the Fire Festival (same as us).

At the station the ATM’s are finally working (and obviously crowded). But while it worked without any problems for Steven, Francis and the German dude, it flatly refused my card (even after I specifically unlocked it to work outside of Europe). So I end up borrowing money from Francis, promising to pay him back when I get back home. I know a few people at a certain bank that are going to get a complaint from me.

The Kiyumizu-dera

Since we would visit a temple, we split up with the German guy for now (he wasn't interested in the temple visit).

Since Kyoto doesn't have that many subway stations, we took a buss ride to the Kiyomizu-dera (a Buddhist temple). We got a bus day-pass at the station and jumped on a crowded bus.

From the bus stop onward to the temple, the streets were overwhelmed with souvenir shops. We enjoyed the souvenir shops back and forth to the temple and enjoyed the trip to the temple (it has quite some nice views). Here, I got some souvenirs for the family back home.

Steven also tried his luck again with the luck-sticks (he should know better by now). This time around, he got a note with mediocre luck (not bad, but not that great either). Well, at least there’s a positive trend in the notes (lol).

Going to the Kurama Fire Festival

We take the bus back to the station and eat some sandwiches from the Family Mart. The Family mart is very "family-friendly", the porn magazines are on the second shelf from below. <_< .That kind of became a running joke for the following days each time we would encounter a Family Mart.

We planned out the easiest way to get to Kurama village and took the bus (because of the day pass we bought). But we ended up walking a long way to get from the nearest bus stop to the correct train station (not to mention, we had to ask for directions a few times).

Notice Steven (our Giant), asking directions from a typical Japanese elder lady.

When we end up in the correct station, we incidentally met up with the German guy again (what a coincidence) and realized the train line for Kurama is freakishly long (Yeah, suddenly we got the leave-early part of the advice). While waiting in the line for the train, we met up with Colette as well, thus having a merry band of 5 people to get into the train.

After a long wait and long trip on a crowded train, we ended up in the mountain village Kurama. When walking outside of the station, we followed the given route. We pass a Japanese tengu mask (see the following foto) and many bundles and torches of wood which were apparently going to be lit this evening.

And if you ignored the few vending machines at the train station, there indeed were no shops or anything to buy food or drinks. Quite different if you compare it to festivities in Belgium, where there would be food and drink shops every few hundred meters.

We walked to a certain spot we think we would going to have a good overview of the festivities and sit at the street, waiting for the festivities to start. We unpacked our snacks and beers and noticed that the German dude and Colette were just as smart (and got their snacks/drinks as well). So we enjoyed those drinks/snacks until the festivities started (around 6 PM).

Francis mentioned he had to go to the toilet and ended up disappearing from our sight for more than an hour (Oh, Francis...). We jokingly said he probably got kidnapped by drunken Japanese men again.

Reborn Tengu?

The Fire Festival Starts

When the time ticked closer to 6 PM, darkness fell over Japan (yeah, it's dark quite early here). At 6 PM, people started to lit fires at several checkpoints in the street, but Francis was STILL missing.

Then a priest walked by on the street, carrying a lit fire. We also saw many people dressing up in classic attire to perform their "role" in the festival. Diagonally from our sitting position, one of the "performers" undressed in his house (with the door wide-open so everyone could see) and got a loincloth on. We were disgusted, but Colette loved it and took many pictures (sigh… girls).

Men with big staples of lit wood and families with a small kid and a smaller torch started to walk down the street while shouting the phrase "Saireya sairyo" ("Have a good festival!").

After a while, Francis finally returned to us. He mentioned that it took a while to find a toilet and to go back and forth he had to follow a specific route, guided by the police (as in not to disturb the festivities). So he wasn't kidnapped by drunk men, he just had to take a frigging long detour (wow, that's one to remember).

As time passes, more people walked through the streets with fire, shouting the same phrase over and over again, and it goes on for hours like this. We walked up and down the streets to see more places that started fires and noticed that some houses posted ancient (family) relics in front of their window, including samurai outfits (cool, I got to see real ones).

Returning from the festival

After a few hours, the buddies got tired of this “walking with fire” thing (since it's the only thing that kept happening). We heard from other people that it would go on like this for the entire evening, which annoyed Steven even more. So we decided to go back to k’s House.

To walk bath, we had to follow the path as guided by the police (similar to how Francis mentioned it). But instead of guiding us straight to the station, the police guided everybody into a lane where many people were waiting (we don’t even know for what or who at this point, we can only guess it’s the train).

The waiting went on for a long time as the line shoved very slowly (making us realize the second point of advice “come back late”). In this line, we meet up with another guy that stays at K’s house (an Italian) and have a chat while we were waiting (so now we were a band of six!).

After waiting in line for over an hour or so, we were close to the end of the line. We could suddenly see that the cops were holding everybody in the line up at a crossroad. They prevented the people to cross the street to the station, because the figurants of the festivities had to pass in the crossing direction. Only when no figurants were passing by, they let people go through. No wonder the line was so slow!

Shortly after (finally) crossing that crossroad, we ended up at the station and we were able to get a seat on the train (finally sitting down again!). Due to people only being "released" from the line this slowly, it was easy to obtain a sitting place in the train.

At the end station in Kyoto, we remembered Colette's tip and took the subway instead of walking by foot. This because there's a subway station close to K’s house (and it's part of the JR-railway apparently). Once there we decided to eat something at Manzo’s again with the entire group (Manzo has good stuff!).

The merry band of six went to Manzo's and got a big table. We had a lot of fun, experiencing the differences between English, German, Italian and Belgian people and we ate a lot. I had Curry Udon, which was spicy, but very good, and sake, of course.

After the food, we said goodbye to Colette (she doesn't stay at K’s House), took some pictures and went to a “Family” mart with the others (and confirmed our running joke). We bought some beers and drank them at the lounge room of K’s. It was a fun night, even if the festival wasn't that amazing.

When going to bed we said our goodbyes to the Italian and German guys, because they would be moving on the next day.

In the meantime, we've made plans to go to Nara tomorrow with Colette. So tomorrow was another day to look forward to.

Tips for traveling Japan - As a girl, never take crowded trains/subways alone

Yeah, this is going to be a little weird, since this tip is from a guy and is directed at women. But that doesn't mean I should not give advice about it, right?

You might have heard about girls being groped on trains in trains/subways in Japan (aka chikan). Sadly enough, that's not something that occurs only in bad porno flicks; it's real. And while Japan is a safe country to travel to in general, the girl groping is a black stain on Japan's safety.

None of the female tourists we encountered had noticed anything of it. Some of them were girls traveling solo and they weren't bothered by it in any fashion. I guess it doesn't happen to tourists, but you never know, right?.

When returning from the fire festival, we encountered the following poster. Some people in our group didn't really get the message. But we did (kind of. It's not like I understood the characters at that point).

The poster is there to encourage girls to stand up and not let it happen (or at least that's the message I got from the poster). And that's honestly what anyone should do in this situation. Kick/punch them in the nuts, scratch, bite, scream, use pepper spray, anything's allowed in my opinion.

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