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The third week of classes is over. Rather than do my pointless busy-work homework, I relaxed for a bit today. Relaxation isn't all about standing still, though.
The day started with lots of sleep, waking up late, doing some laundry, and other stuff I didn't take care of during the week. A friend of mine was working on Saturday correcting English papers, but he gave me a call after he finished up. At about 4:00 PM, we headed out towards the historic Asakusa area for the first of hopefully a few festivals.
The matsuri (festival) season in Japan has just started, and I hope to take full advantage of it. The Sumida River Festival in Asakusa attracts positively enormous crowds. We arrived two hours before sunset, and there were already tens of thousands of visitors who had placed sheets down on the ground to mark their places. The trip to get to Asakusa was enough of a warning: after taking the rail to Asakusabashi station, we had to transfer to the subway. As the hordes of people -- including hundreds of women in traditional yukata summer kimonos -- made their way towards the subway, we were glad to see that additional ticket agents were available to handle the overflow traffic. The subway ride to get to Asakusa station was easily the most crowded train I've ever been on, with conductors pushing people into the train to make sure we all could get there.
Despite all the logistical struggles, the festival was great. The fireworks were second to none: 20,000 blooms launched from two spots along the Sumida River produced stunning effects. I took a ton of pictures, and a few of them actually came out well. Vendors along the streets sell beer, yakisoba, beer, takoyaki (roasted octopus), beer, okonomiyaki (called "Japanese pizza" by many), and all sorts of other refreshments. The prices are terrible: a small container of yakisoba and a can of beer cost me ¥1000 (about $8.60) while at any other place they would cost maybe half as much. Still, especially for street-vendor food, the quality was very good.
Police were clearly in force at the festivals, primarily to keep crowds moving and to maintain roadblocks. They also lead people in huge groups over bridges, providing stunning unobstructed views of the fireworks display. Last year, crowds caused injuries from trampling and even a bridge collapse near Kobe, so police are taking no chances this time around.
Two more Saturday festivals will take place before I head back home, so I'll need to check them out with some friends. Lessons learned: don't buy beer from street vendors, bring a sheet, and arrive as early as possible.
It's frightening to think that just three weeks from today, I'll be returning home. There's so much more to see, but at the same time I have things like our Thursday midterm to worry about. I also need to give my stupid survey to my host family, imposing the will of my professors on these nice people. If I'm lucky, I'll get three out of the four family members to complete it.
Classes won't get me down. It's fun time.