One of the reasons we decided to retire in Thailand is to be closer to our son and daughter-in-law who live and work in Japan. So after we got settled in Chiang Mai we took our first side trip to Japan to visit our family. It is Summer Festivals time in Japan and we are going to attend as many of them as time allows.
We started by flying to Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok to spend the night before our flights to Japan the next day. We stayed at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel as it is very convenient for the overnight stay and they provide a free shuttle from the airport to the hotel. It is a nice place to spend the night, take a swim, enjoy a nice dinner, and have a drink before sleeping and a free breakfast the next morning.
The next day we had breakfast, checked out of the hotel, took the free shuttle to our airline and then boarded our first flight from Bangkok to Haneda International Airport in Tokyo. From there we had to collect our luggage, go through customs, board a shuttle bus to take us to the Domestic Terminal, and hurry to catch our plane from Haneda to Matsuyama. We made it with the unexpected help from a JAL customer service representative who met us at baggage claim and ran us the rest of the way to the shuttle. We made it to the gate with 10 minutes to spare. Whew!
The first event we went to was in Matsuyama, about a 45 minute drive from Uchiko where Steve and Lisa live. It was the Junior High School Kendo Tournament.
Wikipedia has a great description of the history of Kendo:
Lin took some video of some of the matches. These athletes were amazing to watch. Could you imagine the carnage that would occur if they actually used swords? Ouch!
After attending the Kendo Tournament we decided to have sushi for lunch at Sushiro Restaurant. There is a touch screen for ordering whatever you like and it is sent out to you on a conveyor belt that winds around the restaurant past all the tables.
The dishes are color coded and the touch screen chimes when something you ordered is about to pass by your table. The dishes have an rfd chip in them. There are also plates sent around that are not color coded and if you see something you like you just take the plate off the conveyer belt.
The rfd chip in the plate also times how long it has been since each plate had been sent out on the conveyer belt and when it returns to the back prep room is discarded if it has been out too long to be considered fresh.
When you are done with the meal the attendant counts up the number of plates you have and prepares a check for you which you then go to the register and pay for your meal.
The next day was the Oda Lantern Festival. Oda is a very small town but the parade and festival is done on a grand scale. Linda, Lisa, and Steven wore their Summer Yukatas for the festival and I wore my new Jinbei.
The parade was so much fun to watch. The groups that were in the parade ranged from the irreverent to the deadly serious.
When night fell the lighted floats and lanterns were awesome to behold. They were huge and I believe that the only reason they weren't bigger was because they had to clear the power lines that crossed the route. The floats were on wagons that were pulled, pushed, and held under control from running away down the hilly street.
After the parade was over we walked down toward the bridge to watch the ending event. We were able to release lanterns into the river.
Flaming arrows were shot at a boat on the river until the boat was on fire and destroyed.
Oda Lantern Festival - from http://www.we-love-uchiko.jp/we-love-uchiko-e/event/event.html
"This is a summer festival for dead ancestors in connection with the Heike family legend. The parade, including a cow cart carrying Princess Toki, floats in the shape of a log, picture lanterns, a parade of children, Taiko drumers and dancers walk along the shopping street. More than 1,000 lanterns are set afloat on the Odagawa River to the sound of sutras being read by the monks of the Seijo-ji Temple."
After the festival we went to Ozu to have some Shoyu Ramen from a street vendor who sets up her Daihatsu truck and sells her ramen from 9 pm to 2 am every night. It was so good we can see why locals make the trip to Ozu to get a bowl of ramen.
We also try to go to the local community pool to swim everyday, although we haven't managed to do it everyday yet. The cost is 200 yen per person (approximately $2 USD). We call it our private, Olympic size pool since on weekday mornings we tend to have the pool to ourselves. It is set in a beautiful location.