Sunday, April 15, 2007

Azabujuban Summer Festival Mid to Late August (8-19 and 8-20)

My neighborhood in Tokyo, Azabujuban ( ) hosts a yearly summer festival that co-incides with the Bon Festival ( ). The Azabu festival is one of the biggest in the Tokyo area, it runs for 3 or 4 days and attracts 80,000 people a day. The festival is basically a big street fair, it has tons of street vendors selling food, kids toys, clothes and random knick knacks. There’s also a lot of dances, music and other street performances as part of the festival as well. One of the main streets involved in the festival was the street right in front of my apartment so I spent a lot of time checking out the festival and I took a number of photos and some videos, to see the full set on flickr click here ( ) or just check them out below (click on the pictures to see larger versions of them):

The festival is very family oriented and has a lot of children's activities, especially around pets, as you can see below one of the popular festival stalls allows kids to catch fish and turtles which they take home as pets:

Beatles are also a very popular children's summer pet in Japan:

The festival had tons of kids toys:

This is my front door, it's normally a lot less crowded, the upside was that all I had to do was walk outside and I was right in the middle of the festival:

The neighborhood was very crowded, 10,000's of thousands of people came out each day:

The festival had a lot of traditional Japanese foods so I took photo's of a number of them to share with family and friends.

Grilled corn:

Grown by the corn people, for some reason I just loved this poster:

Tacoyaki - Or octopus balls, it's flour with chopped up octopus and a few other things baked into a ball:

Click on the photo and you can see the baking process:

This is the chopped octopus that goes into the baked balls:

This is the end result:

Lots of beer was for sale and in a very Japanese twist you could buy cucumbers on a stick to go with your beer:

This table defied explanation, I really don't know what it was they were trying to do:

Fire grilled fish like this is eaten whole including the head and the bones, the fish is salted and left by the fire to cook, it's really delicious:

Grilled octopus on a stick:

More squid and octopus on a stick:

Really big squid on a stick:

I can't think of the right name for this dish but it's really really good, it's vegetables, noodles and often meat cooked together using batter and then topped with an egg and a sauce somewhat like bar-b-q sauce, it's really great:

Lots more octopus:

If you click on the photo you'll get a better view of this, it's frozen children's candies, basically frozen lollipops

One of the most import parts of the Bon Festival is the Bon dance which is a very simple but very fun summer dance that anyone can participate in. Basically someone pounds on a drum along with other music and everyone dances around in a circle following basic dance steps:

These two women are trading off playing the bon dance drums:

The people shown below are all doing the bon dance, a lot of Japanese women where Yukata for Bon which is a cotton Kimono:

This is what the bon dance looks and sounds like:

As you can see the neighborhood was very crowded all weekend and the weather was great:

Right around the corner from my apartment they set up a performance stage and had all sorts of random performers all weekend, including a marching band:

This is the view of the crowd from my living room:

With all the vendors on the street, a lot of them used funny costumes and other tricks to draw attention like this guy:

And this guy who had a giant beer in his head and a grapefruit in his hand:

And these guys who yelled with signs

And this kid who had a giant drink on her back??

The best show on the performance stage were these guys, I'm really not sure how to describe it so check out the photo's and videos:

When the show ended each night the neighborhood loud speakers, yes my neighborhood had overhead loud speakers, would play Auld Lang Syne ( ) the new years song. It's a random thing that you often see when things close in Japan. The other very funny thing is that the vendors had to be gone within an hour, the whole place cleared out and cleaned up in an unbelievably fast period of time:

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Late August and Early September 2006

From the last post that’s been sitting on the web for six months it looks like I’ve been stuck forever in delayed flight hell. But, in reality that flight was just the beginning of the trip I took that week. I got into New York a day late due to the delay and that night I took a trip to Rhode Island with some friends, all told the door to door journey from Tokyo to Rhode Island was close to three days long. It was a long journey but it was worth it, I got to spend the weekend with my friends from college which was great. It was really nice to be able to be with native English speakers.

The trip didn’t actually end there, I wanted to see my family so the day after I got back from Rhode Island I flew from Newark to Seattle (after spending a day moving my belongings out of storage which is a whole other story).

As you can imagine I was pretty much seeing the world through airline windows at that point so I took a few photos along the way, these are all taken over Washington State on the way into Seattle:

Eastern Washington:

Mountains of Eastern Washington:

Clouds from the air over Washington State:

Mt. Rainier from the air on the way to Seattle:

Hey everybody it’s been about 6 months since I last posted anything here and enough people have asked me what happened that I figured I should get caught up. Long story short things got busy and I fell behind in posting. The brief version of the missing six months is that I took 4 trips between the US and Japan, visited Hong Kong twice, flew across the US twice, took a trip to Vietnam and most recently spent some time in London. I am no longer living in Japan, my time there came to a successful end in January, I am now spending most of my time in the New York City area, but there is a possibility that I may end up in London for a few months this year, that’s a whole other story I’ll explain later.

I will be catching up on posts over the next couple of months, I have a lot of photos and stories to post so bear with me, I am going to continue in a chronological order. I hope you enjoy.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The 8 Hour Round Trip Flight from Tokyo to Tokyo

On Thursday 8/24/06 I headed out to Narita airport for my second home leave. The trip from Tokyo to New York is never easy, it normally involves a 5 minute walk to the subway, 15 mins on the subway, a wait at the ANA hotel for the bus to the airport, a 2 hour plus bus ride (Narita is a long way from Tokyo), a few hours in the airport, a flight of just under 14 hours, an hour or so to clear customs at JFK and then an hour plus cab ride to my place in NJ.

That’s the normal trip, then there’s what happened on the 24th and 25th. My plane left Narita on time about 7PM Tokyo time and all seemed to be going well. But, about 4 to 4.5 hours into the flight I was enjoying a movie when we took a big left hand turn, which pointed us towards the Kamchatka peninsula in Siberia. I have to admit while I would love to visit Siberia sometime, but I definitely think it should be a planned visit, so I wasn’t too sad when the plane continued to turn, but when it became clear that we had taken a 180 degree turn I was a bit confused.

The captain came on and as often happens on JAL flights made announcements in a lot of languages, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (the flight continues on to Brazil) and finally English. The announcements took a long time, so it was more than 15 mins before the English version came on.

One of the tires on the main landing gear was flat (there is a pressure gauge in each tire), not a really big issue because there are a number of tires on the gear but one that has to be dealt with, if I had been flying a US airline we would have either stopped in Alaska or continued on to JFK. There is a minor chance that in landing with a flat tire the landing gear could be damaged, or the tire could throw off debris and in the process damage the airframe or engine. JAL decided to bring us back to Tokyo because our plane was scheduled to continue on from New York to Brazil and they had no spare aircraft in New York in the unlikely event that our aircraft was damaged while landing.

As you can see from the photos we made it all the way to the date line before turning back:

So, we flew back to Tokyo and landed about 3:30 in the morning, JAL has two cameras mounted on all their planes one that looks down and one that looks forward. During take off and landing all the TV screens on the plane show the view looking forward. Interestingly they left the forward looking camera on for our emergency landing, so we had a great view of all the emergency and maintenance vehicles that were lined up on the side of the runway.

The captain made a very smooth landing, holding off on letting the main landing gear down as long as possible and nothing bad happened. We came to a stop on the runway and all the various vehicles descended on us, they continued to leave the camera on so we could see all the vehicles pull up and everyone walking around the front of the plane. We sat on the runway for about 20 to 30 minutes while they checked out the plane and eventually they brought out a tow rig and towed us to the terminal.

When we got to the terminal they unloaded everyone from the plane, handed us airline pillows and blankets and told us it would be 5-9 hours before we would depart again. Since I was in business class I was at least able to go to business class the lounge, where I joined about 200 fellow passengers in sleeping on the floor. JAL put all the families with kids in the lounge, which is very nice of them, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to go through this whole mess with young kids. Unfortunately it also meant that there were a ton of screaming kids all night long.

For those who think international business and the associated travel is glamorous lets just say spending a night sleeping on the floor of an airport with a few hundred people and an airline blanket and pillow isn’t very glamorous, which is the case all too often with the travel. The situation wasn’t helped by the current restrictions on carrying liquids on aircraft. Most of the passengers (myself included) had to check more luggage than normal (I would not normally have checked anything), so most people didn’t have clothes, toiletries, etc. I really felt for the parents with young kids, they were forced to check most of the kids stuff.

The fun continued when I woke up, it was sunny and the room was totally empty except for one other person. Everyone else was gone which left me more than a little worried that I had been left behind in Tokyo. I’m not sure why JAL left me asleep while waking everyone else up, but I jumped up grabbed my belongings and started running for the plane. As I ran they started to call final boarding, I got to the plane with less time to spare than was ideal. If I’d been left in Tokyo I would have been very unhappy. We finally left Tokyo and flew to New York, where the fun continued when we were told that customs wasn’t open so JAL wasn’t allowed to open the door of the plane and let us off. So, we spent an hour sitting on the plane in New York.

All told by the time I got out of JFK and took a cab to my place in New Jersey the travel door to door was a little over 40 hours. The really freaky thing was I saw the sunrise in Tokyo on Friday before boarding the plane the second time. Then we flew all day, had an entire night in the air and I watched the sun come up while we were north of Chicago, but it was Friday morning again, so I saw the sunrise twice on the same day.