Thursday, 29 August 2013

Well done lads

Friday 23rd August 2013

MP3 track of the day: O-Daiko (part 1) - Kodo drummers

Weather: Raining heavily in Niigata; which worried me about the voyage across to the island of Sado. Intermittent rain on Sado though never heavy.

I awoke from a deep sleep at around 8:30am. Once again I was reminded that, paying for a night within a hotel, was the right choice when I had a lovely long shower. Once pampered I felt more human; sure I'd missed breakfast but I felt as though I was ready for the day. I still had a lot of snacks left from yesterday and so I had a strange breakfast of Vanilla Coke, breakfast bars and chocolate. It seemed to have done the trick, therefore I checked out, checked my email and then asked the receptionist the way to the ferry terminal. Within a flash she produced two maps which she then coloured in with a black marker to show my route. Still, both maps were tiny and, realistically, inadequate for the journey I was about to take therefore, I got lost.

Before going to Sado I wanted to fill my car up with fuel because, due to Sado being a small island, I was sure that the prices would be higher than the main land. I stopped at a Shell station where a guy gave me excellent directions to the ferry terminal. We also chatted for a few minutes however, I cut the conversation short due to being worried about missing my ferry. My ferry departed at 12:35pm therefore I still had over two hours however, I knew I wouldn't stop worrying until I was parked up and waiting.

I found the entrance to a large ferry complex with many parking areas for 'foot passengers'. I was putting my car on the ferry and so I followed a lorry which, for some reason I cannot tell you why, I guessed would be boarding the same ferry as I. Sure enough the lorry led me to a wide tarmac ed area with a ticket office at one end. The tarmac was divided into many numbered strips. Due to the rain I parked in the closest bay to the ticket office and ran in. It was here that I met the most miserable Japanese person on Earth. He spoke to me like I was fluent in Japanese and, even after apologising and explaining that I could only speak a little Japanese - therefore please could you speak slowly (I said all of that in Japanese) – he just continued at the same speed writing messages in Kanji. I'm not sure if it was the long drive yesterday, or the lack of sleep (or a combination of both), but he made me really cross. I therefore did what I normally do when I get cross; I smiled and spoke a lot of English very quickly. I can't remember exactly what I said but I think it went a long the lines of:

.. Look; we can either stay here talking to each other in languages which we both do not understand or we can stop and try to help one another. I've asked you to speak slowly, I've asked you not to write messages in Kanji but nether of these messages seemed to have made a difference. I know this isn't the most exciting job in the world but it would help if you could be a little more professional. Oh and it looks as though you failed your English exams therefore don't blame me if you can't understand me...”

That did the trick. After my speech he got out of his chair, came outside and followed me to my car. After a bit of searching he found the piece of paper he was looking for (my car certificate). We went back inside and within a flash all was sorted. It turned out that I'd selected the wrong car size; my car was slightly over three meters therefore I had to pay an additional £40 (total of £110 each way; expensive) to get my car on. With no choice I agreed and was then told to move my car to 'line 1'.

In front of me was a lovely imported orange Ford Mustang. Not to sound too 'snobby' but the driver came out in overalls therefore, I presumed, he was delivering it to someone on the island. After checking out the car I got on with yesterdays blog.

Having almost finished my blog entry I was interrupted by the sound of many car engines being turned on simultaneously. I shut down my PC and followed suite. This was the first time I'd driven a vehicle onto a ferry and it was all very exciting; until I actually drove my car on, and then it became quite mundane. Once parked up I made sure my wing mirrors were in, my car brake was on and the car was locked before proceeding up to the passenger decks.

A Japanese ferry is almost identical to a western ferry, a part from in one major aspect. Wherever you would get a room of seats on a western ferry, on a Japanese ferry those rooms were replaced with large raised carpeted floors with walkways down the middle. Within these walkways were many pairs of shoes. As I looked the owners of the shoes had walked onto the raised carpeted floor and had either sat down with their family (as you would do for a picnic), or they were lying down using a blanket and pillow which they rented from the information desk. I too went to the information desk however not for a blanket. Knowing I wouldn't understand the tannoy call for vehicle owners to get back to their cars, I asked the person on reception when I should head back to my car; 'fifteen minutes before disembarkation' (2:50pm) he said. I thanked the guy and went to sit outside. Due to the intensity of the cloud cover I knew I wouldn't get to see much; I therefore took a few photos of Niigata's port before sitting down and continuing with my blog.

Once again I was interrupted before I'd finished my blog however, this time, it was my fault. My battery died on my netbook. I tried the spare battery but I'd forgotten to charge it. I therefore went inside to look for a electrical plug but came away unsuccessful. I therefore gave up and went back outside. Fortunately, even though it was raining heavily in Niigata, the sea was calm and I was not feeling at all sea sick. I therefore read my guidebook about Sado and tried to form a 'plan of attack' for the weekend.

Once I'd finished reading I only had forty minutes before disembarkation. I stayed outside and chatted to a few Japanese people who were curious at seeing a foreigner on his own. With fifteen minutes left to go I went inside and asked if I could go back to my car. I was told to wait five minutes. After five minutes I asked again and I was allowed down. Once down I got into my car and put my 'hand luggage' on the back seat. Before the doors opened I did a quick check to see if I had everything:

  • Netbook – check
  • Wallet – check
  • phone – check
  • MP3 player -

Where was my MP3 player? Sweat started to pour from my brow as I looked high and low for it. Out of all the items I own, my MP3 player is the one thing I cannot loose as it's a 'smart MP3 player' (it has android apps). I have Japanese translator apps on it, Skype, LINE etc and so I could not loose it. I had just decided that, once off the ferry, I would have to go straight to the ferry information desk to report a lost item when, thankfully, I found it in a place, on my seat, where I never store anything. The only logical conclusion I came up with is it must have fallen out of my pocket when I sat down. I drove off the ferry feeling very relieved.

The ferry had dropped me off in Ryotsu; Sado's largest urban area. As I looked around I wondered just how small Sado's population was if this was the largest city; ten, maybe twelve people. The 'city' seemed to consist of six streets which, a part from a bakery, everything seemed shut. It therefore didn't take me long to find my hotel, which was on a hill over-looking Ryotsu.

You know those posh hotels which have that 'drive in' bit where taxis can pull up right outside the door so you don't get wet? Well this hotel had one. I've never stayed in a hotel with one of those porches before but, I was pretty sure, having the American and Burma flags flying each side of the entrance was not an absolute requirement. Confused about the flags I made it into a big reception with a huge chandelier hanging from the roof of the third floor which flowed through a circular whole within the second floor, so all in reception could see it. There was a circular staircase and a marble reception area and, if I'm painting a grand picture within your mind, I want you to alter it to a 'past tense' image. The hotel reeked of former importance; the carpet was stained and decor was out of touch with the 1990's, let alone today. I checked-in and paid the huge bill (this was the only place, still with vacant rooms, on the island of Sado) before dropping my bags with my room. Even though the corridors were in need of some love, the rooms had been well looked after. It was a Japanese style room with a tatami floor, a futon and a huge black table which was only slightly off the ground. The bathroom was all western and I even had a little sitting room (which I quickly renamed the 'blog room') which over-looked the sea and Ryotsu. It was lovely but I didn't have time to appreciate it; it was coming close to 4pm and, not really knowing how long it would take to get to Ogi (the site of the drum festival) I wasn't sure if the ninety minutes I had before the 'concert doors opened' was enough. Like I said, I therefore dropped my bags off and went straight back out.

The road to Ogi was a single-lane road with many traffic lights. On Sado everyone and his wife seems to respect the speed limit (unlike the mainland) which made my journey long and annoying. As I looked out of the windows I agreed with my guidebook; “... but the islands greatest attractions are really it's glimpses of an older Japan, free of McDonalds and other clutter of modern life...”. As I drove I saw many beautiful old Japanese houses each one with a small, well kept, walled garden. There were 'modern' shopping areas and, I cannot deny, being happy in seeing a few 'modern home comforts' such as Moss Burger and Mr Donuts however, these 'modern things' were kept together meaning that 99% of the island was firmly back from in the 1900's.

It didn't take me long to reach the other-side of the island; once there I headed south towards Ogi. This part of the route was still one lane however, the road clung to the edge of the island. It was all very beautiful and there were even places where I could make safe over takes.

Once on the outskirts of Ogi I decided against a full frontal assault and, instead, I drove towards the harbour where additional parking had been set-up. After a little confusion, parking was found and I was amazed to find it free. With the rain still coming down I 'wet weathered up' and went towards the Earth festivals 'market area'. Looking at my watch I still had forty minutes before the concert doors opened.

It didn't take long to realise that tomorrow was going to be the 'main day'. Half of the tents were only just being erected and, due to the weather, the crowds were minimal. I hadn't eaten properly for over twenty-four hours therefore I purchased a burger, which was nice but very small. As I was eating I had two visitors; one was a mentally ill old woman, with a bent back, who left after talking at me for ten minutes. The next was a lot more welcome; she was in her twenties and seemed generally pleased to chat to me. Even though she was Japanese she seemed to have a hint of Indian in her and her smile was beautiful. Her long black hair waved in the wind as she laughed and her English was excellent. She wasn't skinny, yet she wasn't fat. She seemed perfect and we chatted for at least twenty minutes. Love strikes in strange places and, even though Sado is twenty-four hours away from Miyako, maybe here on this pokey island I struck gold. Then she said those four little words no one wants to hear:

I'm a Jehovah's Witness.

Once I'd consumed my burger, I toured the 'market' one last time before making my way to the concert entrance. The concert was held in a park and, due to the rain, I knew it would get muddy. This being Japan, everything was perfectly organised; first of all I made my way to a small shrine (behind the shrine lay a path to the park) where I showed my ticket. After being stamped in I followed the crowds up a stone path (illuminated by lanterns and torches held by Earth festival staff) and through a small wood. Once clear of the wood a large open area confronted me. The area was circular and sloped gently downwards towards the stage. The stage was a large gazebo with no back. Two huge TV screens were placed either side of the stage each having a dance area, and 'stand up' area, in front of them. I went straight for the middle 'sit down and don't move' area where I put my ground sheet upon the floor and sat down in anticipation. You see, I've had reservations about this trip since I booked it. It's cost as much as my nine-day trip of southern Tohoku and, from the description, it all sounded a little too 'hippy' for me. If it wasn't for my guidebook putting it within it's '31 things not to miss in Japan' I'm sure I would have never herd of it (most of my colleagues had no idea what it was). Anyway I sat there waiting; announcements came and went and I was getting annoyed that an announcement regarding umbrellas (I hate umbrellas) hadn't been implemented. Within the festival's information, umbrellas had been banned due to them blocking line of sight. Currently I couldn't see the stage; just a sea of blue, purple and clear umbrellas. However, just as the mayor of Sado came on stage to open the festival, all umbrellas went away giving me a perfect view. The rain had died away too and I was ready. Three months in the planning and a ten hour drive; this had to be worth it.

The rain fell intermittently throughout the festival. The concert was a 100 minutes long and was taken up by one group of drummers called Dandan. I have to admit that, on only a few occasions, things sounded the same. Mostly the concert was superb with drummers throwing themselves this way and that hitting all kinds of drums. The beat was so strong that it shook the ground; some pieces seemed to reflect nature and, not having a back to the gazebo was a stroke of genius as the two trees behind complemented the music beautifully. With it now being completely dark, coloured light was shone onto the trees making them very beautiful. Each piece was at least twenty minutes long and the sheer strength required to keep hitting a drum at that pace and power was incredible. Women would love this concert as all the drummers were men, wearing only tight white trousers and nothing else; a close up of one of the drummers muscles was shown and, as I briefly looked at my own body, a small mix of sadness and jealousy entered my head. Still the concert was amazing; such a lot to see and so many beats. I wouldn't say that it was dance music however, this didn't stop a small (mainly western group) heading to the dance areas and giving it their all. Finally the concert ended with the eight main Dandan drummers on stage (with about ten support drummers behind) all playing a mesmerizing beat. Every so often one of the eight would do a bit of 'solo drumming' before bowing to a huge applause. It was this beat that remained within my head as I left the park, got into my car (which had a huge flying bug in it; took a while to get that 'fat lad' out) and drove back to my hotel. Just like every other Japanese event, leaving Ogi was easier than arriving and, a part from some slow drivers, I made good time. I stopped off at Moss Burger before getting back to my hotel to sorting out the bags I dumped in there earlier in the day. I was going to write this blog within my 'blog room' but, I was so tired I gave up after an hour and went to sleep.

The futon was comfortable, the air-con was on and I was happy. It had been worth coming to Sado after all. The Dandan drummers had been excellent; well done lads, well done.

Toodle Pip!

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