5th August 2012
MP3 track of the day: Universally Speaking - Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Weather: Cold and overcast in Towada-ko (not a complaint; just an observation). Perfect weather in Hirosaki.
Looking out of my window, at around 7:30am, I noticed that the skies hadn't cleared. This meant that photographing this beautiful lake, which was only a five minute walk away, would have to wait for another day. I therefore got ready to head towards Hirosaki. I was quite relieved to wake up unharmed; all night my mind tossed over the thought of being eaten alive by a hundred insects. As I checked myself I noticed that I hadn't received any bites at all. I got up, passed Frankie – the cocooned moth – and went for a quick shower. The group of Japanese guests, who I'd met yesterday, seemed to be getting ready to leave too. I gave them a friendly 'good morning' and continued towards the shower room.
At 8:30am I was sat in my car ready for the off. I checked my map and casually pulled out of the car park. As Towada-ko is surrounded by a ring of mountains I had to go over them – which was a bit of a shocker as normally the Japanese just tunnel through them – and then down the other side. The road twisted forever upwards and, even though it wasn't a problem, I was already not looking forward to my return journey in the dark.
Once out of Towada-ko the clouds lessened and the road straightened. Just like the rest of my trip I drove past some stunning scenery including a gorge with a damn built at the end; at one point a huge bridge crossed said gorge allowing for great views.
It only took an hour to reach the outskirts of Hirosaki; I stopped for breakfast (Mcdonald's pancake breakfast … yum) before continuing into town. With breakfast sorted I had only two jobs left to do; firstly I had to get some petrol and then I had to find a car park. Both turned out to be pretty easy; I found a petrol station with no problems and I dived into the first mult-storey car park I could find. The price for parking was 200 Yen (£1.50) per hour; this seemed a little steep and, after a small recce, I found another car park for only 100 Yen per hour. I moved my car (not without having to pay 200Yen for about fifteen minutes!!!) and then got down to looking around Hirosaki. The time; 11am.
As the festival wasn't due to begin until 7pm I had ample time to walk around this small city. On my way to the cities park I past a few floats – which would be used in the festival – on display in a temporary tent. As I stood there I tried to take in their size; they must have been as tall as a three-storey building. I finally made it to the park and, as it was pretty hot, I grabbed a bottle of water before entering. The park was massive and a leaflet, which I was given, said that it would take around two hours to see it all. I started to walk around the park in a clockwise fashion, skipping the botanical gardens as you had to pay to enter. I did however pay to enter the inner park, which housed Hirosaki's most famous landmark. In 1611 Hirosaki-jo (Hirosaki castle to you and me) was built by the Tsugaru lords to protect their domain; sadly all of it was destroyed (only the foundations are evident) but, in 1810, the Japanese rebuilt one of the towers. It is positioned on the south-eastern corner of the complex, over-looking a small moat with a Japanese wooden bridge crossing it. Perched high upon a rocky base, with trees all around, this tower was very photogenic indeed. I spent a while photographing it from many different angles, glad that other Japanese tourists seemed to stay out of my shot. This view, of the Japanese tower with the wooden bridge in front, is one of the best locations within Japan to experience Hanami (the Japanese cherry blossom season) and I could only imagine how beautiful this area would look.
After photographing the old castle area to death, I moved to the outskirts of the park and walked around it in a clockwise direction. Each of the three main entrances were guarded by a huge wooden Japanese gate, which again made for some excellent photos.
The time was now 1:30pm and I'd pretty much seen the whole of Hirosaki's park (my favourite park to date!). It had taken two and a half hours to see all that there was to see and now I was hungry. I headed out of the park, the way I had entered, and walked into town to find something to eat. Yet again this felt like a mission and it took me over a hour to settle for a small Italian restaurant (located within a shopping center close to the train station). I order a pizza and a mango juice, sat down and rested my poor feet. My feet groaned as, when I looked at my guidebook's map, I would have to walk back up to the park to see the rest of Hirosaki's attractions. I ate my pizza slowly, drank my ice-cold drink and persuaded my feet to walk back to Hirosaki's park.
It was around 3pm when I walked out of the north entrance of the park. On the road in front of me was an old Japanese house, which was built 250 years ago. I took a few photos before moving into the small residential area in front of me. My guidebook stated that there were two more houses, both of which were at least 250 years old, and so I walked down the narrow streets grateful of the shade in which they provided. I found the other two houses and peeked in, not knowing if I was supposed to or not. The houses reminded me of the ones I'd seen in Kakunodate, and so I took a few photos before heading back into the park.
Tired and weary I pushed my feet forever onwards and south. The last two attractions were south of the park and so, yet again, I had a long walk ahead of me. The first attraction was a Japanese garden; due to it closing soon I didn't pay to enter, though I did sneak a quick peek over the hedge. I then continued my long walk south to an area of the city filled with temples.
My guidebook stated that this part of town was known as 'temple town' where, within the seventeenth century, thirty of the cities temples were relocated here. What my guidebook failed to mention was that the grounds of these temples were cemeteries. Now I'm sure the Japanese don't mind tourists looking around these 'temple cemeteries' however, I felt a bit uneasy (I mean; how would feel if a group of tourists visited your local cemetery and started taking photos). I put my camera away and did a quick walk up and down the street peering over the walls looking at the temples. All the temples were grand, well kept and made of wood; the gardens also looked immaculate with pruned trees and ample shade. It all looked very peaceful.
The time was now 5pm and I had finished seeing all Hirosaki had to offer (apart from the festival, which would start in two hours time). My feet begged me to rest and so, with a can in hand, I went once more back to Hirosaki's park and sat down for an hour or two. While there I met a group of Japanese / Chinese students from Kyoto University. We talked for a little while - I mainly talked to one of the Chinese girls as, I think, her English was the best within the group – and I found out that they were only here for one night; afterwards they were heading to Hokkaido (lucky gits!). I mentioned that I lived in Japan and I was on holiday here. After this brief exchange we wished each other well and off they went. I pretended to read my guidebook as I watched a mum and dad play 'tag' with there very young son.
My watching was interrupted by the sound of a drum beating. I checked my watch to find that the time was only 6:30pm; I decided to get up, head out of the park, and check what all the fuss was about.
Outside of the park floats lined the streets with their human engines sitting down having a drink (people pushed and pulled the floats). I took a few photos before finding the source of the drumming. A huge drum (about the size of a two-storey building) was being struck by three people sitting on top of the drum, and three stood on the road hitting the drum from the bottom. I stood and watched as they allowed members of the public to have a go; I looked around and noticed that the 'parade street' was starting to fill. I therefore headed away from the park to find myself a good viewing position, as near to my car as possible.
Why did I want to be near my car? Well firstly I wasn't sure if the car park was open twenty-four hours (though I did check with an attendant and he said yes). I also wasn't sure if my hostel had a twenty-four hour reception therefore, once the parade was over, I wanted to make a quick exit.
I heard the parade before I saw it; it was 7:15pm and the sun was setting. Coming towards me, slightly hidden by a corner, I could see bright lights getting ever closer. Finally the first float came into view. Built on a square, a huge petal shaped structure moved forward with two people on the top, and loads of people pushing and pulling the float down the street. The float was so high that at points the top had to be lowered so that it could get past the overhanging phone cables. The sides of the float were decorated by a huge painting; lights were put within the float making it a beacon for all spectators. Hundreds of these floats poured down the road, all of different shapes and sizes with a row of drums following each one. Groups of dancers filled the gaps between the floats and, what sounded like Japanese war cries, filled the evening sky. I loved just standing there photographing each float as it passed me by; some stopped close to where I was stood and were spun around by their drivers. I watched them pass me and continue up the road shining out into the nights sky. The drumming was deafening, the atmosphere was electric and I was in my element.
After ninety minutes the floats were still coming down the hill. I was looking at my watch worrying that either the car park, or my hostel (or both) would be closed. At 8:55pm I could take it no longer and I walked towards the procession of floats trying to see where it ended. After about six steps I saw the unmistakable sight of a police cars flashing lights; I knew that this meant the end of the procession and so, after a few last photos, I bolted towards where my car was parked.
Even though the car park was only meters from the festival street, it didn't take long to get out and onto the streets of Hirosaki. After driving slowly through the crowds of people I found a main road, which ran parallel to the parade street (coming into Hirosaki I had driven down said parade street and so I had to go back that way), and I was able to increase my speed. It was actually all too easy; I followed this road until I hit the main highway. I have to say that the Japanese road system does seem to make exiting a big event very easy indeed.
Apart from stopping at McDonald’s for an evening snack, my drive home was uneventful. I made my way down the dark mountainous road – maybe a little too quickly – and I soon found myself at my hostel, at around 11pm. The owner was still up and so I took my key, said the festival was brilliant, and bid him goodnight. Before I entered my room I noticed that Frankie had checked-out (whether by his own will or not, I cannot say).
Tomorrow I shall spend the day around Towada-ko; I shall be having a lie-in before partaking in a little hiking and some photographing. So what a great day; a great city, an excellent festival and back home safe and sound. I hope the weather improves here in Towada-ko for tomorrow!