Martin's Japan Pages

Our Man In Japan

20 February 2005

Tokamachi Snow Festival 2005

Another fun-packed, drink fuelled weekend. Debs and I drove up to Kate's house in Niigata to meet with Kate, Justine, Emma and Ryan. We drank wine while we got ready and when Jason came round we left for Hot Spot. Hot Spot is teh new name for Cheers. I hated Cheers, there was something about the the atmosphere there that stopped me from relaxing and enjoying myself. Now it's under new management and I must say the new owner has done really well with the place. The layout is the same, but he's added new seats and a couple of VIP rooms and the whole place feels cozy.

Anyways, the party. All the footy guys were there. Luke was well on his way and I helped by buying him a tequila shot. Since I missed the footy dinner, there was a little ceremony to present me with a medal, photo and DVD of the final game. I was dead chuffed with the medal, only the second in my footy career but by far the most important.

I spent the night playing pool, playing table-footy and chatting to everyone and anyone. I surprised at how quickly 3am came round, at which point we said our final goodbyes to Luke and headed back to Kate's.

We tried to wake early on Saturday morning so that Ryan and I could go to Tokamachi for the Snow Festival and the girls could go to Joetsu for the play. Even with hangovers, we managed showers, coffee and egg on toast and left Kate's around 1ish.

The drive through Tokamachi was surprising. When I had left Tokamachi on Friday, there were just piles of snow everywhere with one or two little lanterns carved out of some of them. Now, all the way down the main high street, there was a lantern every 50 metres and little snowmen everywhere. Now it really was starting to feel like a snow festival!

Ryan and I got to my place at around 2.30/3pm, dumped my car and headed for the nearest Snow Festival Square, which happened to be opposite my barber's. They had a big mountain of snow, a big sculpture of a bird and a stage. The listings showed that the next peformance on the stage was a Fire Performance at 5.30. As we were looking at the listings, a bloke started chatting to us. He turned out to be one of the Fire Performers and was really happy when we told him we where going to come and watch him. We also bumped into my barber, not totally surprising since his shop is across the road, and I was surprised when he asked if Ryan was my friends from Niigata, one of teh ones I said would come for teh festival. I was surprised because it meant that I was actually making some sense to him on Thursday!

Ryan and I then climbed to the top of a snow mountain (okay, hill) where we found a slide had been built into the other side. There were some ladies at the top handing out plastic sledges so me and Ryan had to have a go. It was like being seven again!

We headed into town to see the main Community Hiroba (square) that was built on the playing field at my school. There were lots of stalls, another snow slide and we also saw the stage for the main performances. We bumped into Erik, Gina and the other ALTs from Muikamachi. They'd been in town for a while and had seen some nice scupltures in the streets. Ryan and I headed off towards the station to see some of these scupltures. We stopped at a photo shop that was selling photos of the big sculptures so I bought a couple in case they had melted beyond all recognition by the time I saw them. Ryan and I also bumped into a strange penguin thing that was promoting the tri-ennial arts festival. It was playfully harrassing a group of school children which was teh funniest thing I'd seen in ages!

We met Neil and Annie at the station and we also met some Japanese people who had competed in a sculpting contest. The results had been decided long before and they were all well into the celebratory drinks. They saw us and each started to boast to us about their recent and past acheivements in the sculpting contest. They offered us a drink, but we refused when we saw that every glass of beer had a fish in it!

It was nearly time for the Fire Performance so the four of us headed back to my car to drive to my apartment, hooking up with Rowan on teh way who followed me back to mine. Just before we left my apartment, we couldn;t resist jumping off my balcony into the snow that had piled up in the restaurant car park! Ryan, Neil and I had no trouble. Somehow Rowan managed to get stuck up to his waist in the snow, and he couldn't pull his legs out! We had to get a shovel to dig the poor lad out!

It was starting to get dark as the fire performance began, which suited the show. There was a drumer to one side and the performers took to the stage with a variety of staffs and bolos. There was a cool section where two performers had a duel with two flaming swords; it was like an ancient light-saber battle!

After the performance, we headed back to the Community Hiroba to see what was being performed there. It was half way through the Kimono Show; kind of a fashion parade of local Kimonos. Then there was the Miss Tokamachi contest and after there was a singer. The singer had a tough job because it had started sleeting and forced a large part of the crowd to go home.

We decided to leave too and head to Gourmet Houe for beer and food. By coincidence, a couple of the climbers, the weatherman and his wife, were having an enkai at Gourmet House and they came over to say hi to me. A little later on, a mand who knew Yuki came over to say hi too. The man was very generous and sent over three pitchers of beer to the table, which was really nice of him. I don't know why he did that, but we drank teh beer all the same.

We tried carry one drinking at Lupin, but after the lack of sleep from last night I was shattered. So was Ryan so we headed back to my flat, with Rowan who was also staying over at mine.

We woke on Sunday and headed out to the Community Hiroba again. Debs arrived with Mel and Kate and we all had a proper walk around the square. We found a tea-ceremony place and all sat and had green tea. There was also a maze cut into the snow in which we got lost for quite a while. Rowan and I investigated the igloos and found they were serving 'hot sweet rice drink'. It was a strange texture, but suited teh cold weather. There was also a row of measuring sticks showing the amount of snowfall in Tokamachi by the time the festival started. This year's snowfall was three metres, about three times that of the previous two years and the most for 19 years.

There was one other centre of the Snow Festival we hadn;t seen at Kinari/Cross Ten, so we walked down the high street to see what was going on there. They had filled the centre of Kinari with snow and they were having what looked like a volleyball tournament in the snow. Looking closer, we saw that there were three nets on each pitch and three teams competing in each game. We weren't sure on teh rules, but we've decided that we should try and sign up for next years tournament!

After a coffee in Cross Ten, we headed back to Community Hiroba, but it was 3pm. All the stalls and the squares started closing and it was the end of the festival. Justine drove back to Niigata with Ryan and Kate, Liz drove Liz and Mel back to Joetsu and me and Debs decided to go for onsen at Mion in Nakasato.

We weren't prepared for what we saw when we got back; all the sculptures had gone! In the time we'd spent at the onsen, they'd removed all the snow used for the festival! Everything was back to normal! I remembered about how at the end of the match, the players of Kawaji FC would put away the goals and groom the pitch. Same idea I guess. But it does leave you with a feeling of "Did that really happen?" Well, I have lots of photos to prove that it did, so I guess it must have.


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