We weren’t feeling so hot after our long flight between Saigon and Narita, Japan. Neither of us had gotten much sleep, and our two weeks of non-stop playing had successfully worn us out. With an 8 hour layover, though, we pushed through since we were in Japan after all.
After two weeks in Southeast Asia, the shininess and orderliness of Japan was a bit overwhelming. Everything moved so efficiently – we rarely waited in lines and there was a machine for pretty much everything from changing money to buying train tickets. Before we knew it, our bags were checked into short-term storage and we were on the train to Narita, a mere 2 stops away.
Narita, a suburb of Tokyo, is a cute little town which is punctuated by a Buddhist temple and a very large garden. We walked down the narrow streets in the early morning before the city was even awake, admiring the striking iconography on all of the signs. Since Vietnam uses a romanized alphabet, it was at least possible to make out the basic pronunciation of words. Here, however, we were out of luck. Fortunately most major signs seemed to be printed in at least 4 languages, English being one of them.
In all of the shop windows were fliers indicating that we were there during a drum festival. A little unsure of what such a festival might entail, we headed down the curving streets toward the temple grounds, where the festival was taking place. After admiring the Japanese drinking fountain, we entered the grounds.
Amassed in the central courtyard of Shinshō-ji were lines of children and teens in some sort of ceremonial garb. They all had drums, and were waiting for the festivities to begin. The drums were of all sizes, from small snare-like to huge bass drums that had to be wheeled around. Since there was an hour or two before the start of the event, we decided to take a walk through the grounds.
Bree: After spending two weeks being perpetually covered in sweat, the 50 degree weather was a bit of a shock. Jet lagged and freezing and wearing practically every piece of clothing I had, I was pretty much dragging myself around the gardens trying to appreciate the fact that we were in JAPAN! Every time I sat down, I struggled not to fall asleep on the freezing cold benches.
Ben: Among the grounds were ponds surrounded with the last of the cherry blossoms that still clung to their mother tree, with their siblings striking a pale pink contrast against the moss-laced stones that made up the path. We passed large tombstones with Japanese script etched in, while nearly everything was covered in dark green moss. There were several other structures and temples, and we spent several hours wandering along the paths.
Finally the booms of the huge bass drums could be heard in the background. That was our call to head back to the main square – and before long we were standing before a massively packed courtyard with thousands of spectators. Each group of kids would take turns performing, with the beating of the drums audible from clear into town. When we had had our fill, we eventually turned back toward the hilly streets and lazily made our way toward the shops and restaurants.
By lunch we were famished, and had a surprisingly difficult time finding food. We underestimated how much cash we might need in Japan, and needed to pull some Yen out of the ATM. The language barrier proved too difficult, though, since the ATMs had no English options, and we were never able to make out the iconographs on the faded screen. With not much money, our dining options were pretty limited and finally settled on eating small portions of street food from vendors catering to the drum festival’s large population with the last of our cash.
We found some octopus wrapped in a fried pastry that looked both appetizing and affordable. Bree quite enjoyed it, but as I took a bite, the chewy texture begged me to look into the now-open pastry. The curled, pink tentacles dotted with suction cups spilling out of the pastry shell did not sit well with me. I was able to choke the rest down, but duly noted that octopus is not something I particularly enjoy.
By time our chewy suction-pastries were gone, it was time to head back to the airport for our flight home.