Back to the office routine. I’ve managed to survive until just before lunchtime without getting bored. As long as I bring my laptop along for the ride, I have a few options for make-work projects. But so far today, I haven’t resorted to my usual work-unrelated tasks – I have been taking a trip down memory lane with a stint of editing.

Yes, the speech competition is fast approaching and the entries require the assistance of native English speakers. First the student writes his or her speech in Japanese, the teacher then translates and passes it off to Sarah and I to add our gaijin flare to it. I am reminded of the early-year experiences working as an editor at the Gauntlet attempting to correct the endless strings of mistakes produced by new writers (ah, Mr. Teeuwen, how could I have predicted you would provide valuable, usable experience for later in life).

I don’t mind editing and a little typesetting so much, but compared with my weekend, office life is not nearly as invigorating.

I took Friday off with one of my summer leave days and made the quick trip North to Hiraizumi. The Chusonji temple complex beckoned my camera from afar, so I followed the signs and soon reached the base of a cedar-covered hill where temples and shrines lurked in the shade.

I arrived at about 8:30 and I don’t think I left until about three in the afternoon after I had explored every inch of the place. Travel photography is definitely the life for me, and Chusonji was a fantastic place for my camera to get a workout. Each turn revealed some new wonder and I found myself either grinning or frequently uttering ‘wow’ to myself. The photos I took do a far better job of describing the marvelous temples, so I won’t belabour their description (though I really should be practicing for the potential of writing any travel articles). I think I might make the trip back during each of the four seasons to explore the complex under different conditions.

Many sweaty, giddy hours later, I started back in the direction of the station. I took a short side trip up a hill to Takatachi Gikeido where one of Hiraizumi’s ancient heroes ended his life. A climb up a couple staircases revealed a lovely view of the river valley and a one-room museum then another short climb exposed a small shrine.

Though I had not yet seen many of Hiraizumi’s sites I returned to the station with impeccable timing to catch the train. The town is so close to home, I will have no trouble returning.

Back in Ichinoseki, two of the main streets were choked by vendors, kimono-clad teens, and tanabata (streamers) galore. I briefly wandered amid the colours and ran into one of my students from the previous day, Sayaka who obliged me for a photo with her friends. But, I had little time to dawdle if I wanted to get home then return in this direction for the fireworks.

After quickly freshening up I reached the bridge to get to the shores of the river where future spectators clogged the footpath like cholesterol stalling blood to the heart. I normally wouldn’t have minded, but the sky was brilliantly lit and I wanted to get behind the lens to see if I could capture any of the fleeting hues. I managed to make it to the riverside for only one worthwhile shot as the sun set.

I chose a spot to set up my tripod in fairly random fashion and ended up placing myself in the perfect location. The display shot from across the river to my left – the river meandered past in the foreground and a lit bridge filled out the background. The display itself was rather impressive especially for such a small city. It lasted for nearly two hours with bursts of one to five minutes followed by a short breaks when a loudspeaker would babble about who knows what in Japanese. The only word that seemed at all recognizable to me was something that sounded like ‘Starmine.’ I could be wrong even though they repeated it about 60 times through the night.

At the end of the night, I talked with a few students who offered me drinks and also another girls whose English was quite good who let me use a cardboard box she had rather than resting on the damp grass. I couldn’t stay long, however, since I had to get up at a dismal hour the next day and I wanted to get at least a little sleep.

On Saturday, I woke at a quarter to five and bolted to the station to catch the train to Morioka. Once there, I explored for a while, but I had to use the help of my Japanese phrasebook to figure out where to buy a bus ticket to Aomori to meet up with the other JETs to see the Nabuta festival. One good man working at the station was kind enough to guide me to the ticket dispensers and point me in the right direction for the stop. Yay for customer service!

The bus ride was uneventful (though I did try to get off too early), but when I arrived, Maria and I had one hell of a time actually crossing paths despite being within a block of one another. A series of phone calls to her cell from various Aomori payphones eventually guided us in the proper direction.

We walked outside to Jonathan’s car and in the process of climbing into his car and being introduced to him, the sticky heat that makes clothes cling to your body in unexpected ways caused my pants to tear in the crotch. Honestly, it wasn’t my enormous genitalia (this time). I can’t say it was my classiest introduction ever, ‘Hi, I’m Darby and I’ve just torn a hole in my pants.’ Really, the gash was only apparent when I sat cross-legged (which, admittedly, occurred often during our day of sitting on the ground to see parades and fireworks). Attempting to look on the bright side, it did provide some welcome ventilation on a hot day.

Jonathan seems quite nice and is a fellow philosophy major. He and Maria make a good couple and should be fun folks to adventure with when possible. Though he’s a fellow philosophy major he doesn’t have the pretension or complete lack of charisma that woefully besets so many of our ilk.

We parked the car and crossed the Aomori streets to find Brent and Jo sitting at the sidewalk along the parade route. The tail end of the parade set itself up directly in front of us and eventually started marching forward with a long gap trailing behind. When the loop had been completed, drummers, dancers, floats and odd characters a plenty trundled past our position.

The floats were indeed impressive. Enormous paper constructions hoisted on the backs of hot, sweaty and tired men bobbed through the parade route while colossal drums boomed their rhythms deafeningly. One drum was large enough that you could have probably built a comfortable house in side. The 33-degree heat didn’t bother me so much as I was caught up in the spectacle. Maria brought a plethora of yummy snacks. The passing dancers who delivered a respectable supply of their lucky bells rewarded her generosity to us.

After looking at a number of my photos, however, I’m a little disappointed by the results produced by my telephoto lens in particular – that and my metering. The telephoto doesn’t focus quite quickly enough for such a spectacle, it’s a slow lens and I made the error of waiting too long before taking the photo after I had focused. Poor form. As for the metering, the sky seemed to encroach in many shots and I underexposed a lot of them due to its intrusive presence. Live and learn.

After the parade, we stopped at Gusto for some food and air conditioning. The most fun portion of the lunch was trying to determine the words on the front of one man’s shirt. The back read ‘because my feet get wet,’ which lead to all kinds of wild conjecture. The truth proved far less amusing than our possible answers. Maria had to go ask and it was something about building a bridge over a river.

Maria and Jonathan went back to the car to try to find a better spot, but this proved a big mistake, the spot they ended up getting was about 45 minutes further than what they originally had. A bit of a screw up really. But it just meant we got to take a walk later and see more of Amomori (though perhaps not its best side).

Meanwhile, Jo, Brent and I waded through the masses towards the harbour. Elbow to elbow, we could hardly move through the swarms. After much indecision, we settled on a plan to sneak into the area that was reserved for ticket holders. It was spectacularly easy. Originally, we were only going to sit on the steps behind the ticket checkers – that wasn’t part of the pay area, so it was no problem. Then, we just had to walk through the gate and we were in. They didn’t check tickets at the gate, so it couldn’t have been easier.

We planted our flag and sat down to watch the show. Jonathan and Maria, due to the parking fiasco, came far later after the pay area had been opened to the public. Fireworks blazed through the sky and eventually surpassed the Ichinoseki display in grandeur. Later on in the show, the best floats from today’s parade were placed on barges and illuminated from the inside while the fireworks exploded above.

At the end of this impressive display, Jonathan, Maria and I headed back to retrieve the car. Apparently, some exchange during the show had left some tension between the two couples, but for the life of me, I can’t understand how such an innocuous story could have left them all brooding as they were.

Things seemed more amicable, however, after we picked them up and headed south. Crammed in the back with Brent and Maria, I sleepily nodded through the first part of the journey, but we all conversed later on when sleep was not to be found. My inability to censor myself made me blurt out the worst of my jokes and stories – hopefully I haven’t offended anyone and they will invite me along for another road trip.

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