Starting in Chichibu...
This may be my only chance to post while I'm in Japan... tomorrow we leave for a remote spot where cell service is unlikely, and a high speed internet connection is probably out of the question.
I arrived @ Narita airport yesterday (or the day before; that whole International Date Line thing is a little confusing) and was up 29 hours before collapsing onto the futon on Cayce's floor last night. But oh so worth it.
Delayed by de-icing at JFK, duped by a sleeping pill (I got a mere 2 hour nap w/a dose of Sonata!), thwarted in my attempt to find a luggage locker for my suitcase, Cayce and I drank copious amounts of sake on the train from Narita to Tokyo, then north to Chichibu, where last night was the grand finale of their annual fireworks festival.
I found that if I kept moving I could stay awake, and eating helped, too. Our first food stop was an amazake vendor who graciously agreed to keep my suitcase behind her table, then thanked us for the privilege of baggage-sitting with a free package of mochi. We wandered the streets of this little town eating gyoza, skewered chicken & scallions, steamed buns stuffed with black bean paste and suffused with sake, even a gyro made by a man from Lebanon. And of course, more amazake.
It was my first temple festival and I finally got to witness the infamous parades of men shuffling through the streets w/their heavy (heavy!) floats, chanting wa-shoi as they stumbled in unison. At a parking lot percussion concert we shared roasted chestnuts with some friendly faces. (Those huge taiko drums pierce through to your core.) There were very few visible foreigners at the festival, so we attracted more than the usual share of stares and offers of food.
After 4 hours of blessed sleep, we leave this morning for Yamagata and toji at the Hijiori Onsen. I'll continue to write, but it may be 8-10 days before I can post again. Sayonara