So far the first half of April has been packed with plenty of Japanese tradition, sprinkled with some American fun and of course another great day in Hiroshima.
First things first, we started everything off with the yearly Hanami festival at the Kintai Bridge. This is essentially a flower viewing when the cherry blossoms are at their peak bloom. We got together with some people from the Corps of Engineers, stole up some land under the cherry blossoms upstream from the bridge and took in the sites. There was plenty of food and sake and the weather was a tad chilly but sunny and the kids had a blast. There were boats on the river giving tours, food vendors set up and the trees were incredibly beautiful. I know DC has their cherry blossom viewing every year, and those trees came from Japan, but damn if it isn’t beautiful here. It was a great way to kick off spring!
Of course, with the coming of spring brings Easter. Zombie Jesus comes back from the dead to feast on the souls of sinners and we get to partake in ham, easter egg hunts and of course mimosas. Spring has sprung. First we took the kids to the Parade Deck on base to chase after easter eggs with all the other kids. There’s nothing more fun than watching kids run after eggs in an open field like a cannon ball run for candy in a no-holds barred fight to the finish. The next day we took in the Easter Brunch at Club Iwakuni. Yummy. For the price, the food isn’t too bad and like I said before… mimosas.
I’d have to say the pinnacle of our month so far is Yabusame. If you live in Japan and you haven’t been to a Yabusame ceremony, you need to have your head checked. If you don’t live in Japan and you are thinking about visiting, I would recommend doing it around Hanami and Yabusame. You get beautiful flowers and then you get archers on horseback. It’s pretty bitchin. I’m getting ahead of myself.
Lemme back up, for a sec. Last weekend we went to Tsuwano for Yabusame. It would have been a 3 1/2 hour trip by train so we decided to rent a car. It was my first time driving in Japan and we took the kids straight through the mountains. What a super scenic drive. It’s no driving up to the Matanuska Glacier in Alaska beautiful, but for what Japan has to offer, it was great. Winding roads through tunnels and rice paddy laden valleys, there’s no substitute.
We did take our time getting to Tsuwano and when we got there it took a little more time to actually get to the Yabusame ceremony but when we did it was pretty daggum cool. We started off in between the second and third rounds of the horseback archery and walked up on a live theater show. I’m not exactly familiar with what was going on, but from what I could tell, a Samurai was kicking the shit out of the devil and won. I could be way off. Either way, we then hiked up a pretty steep hill and came to an enormous cedar. Huge! I mean, the biggest tree I’ve seen in Japan, easily.
Anywho, we came back down from the ginormous tree just in time to catch the archers coming in for the third round. Their dress was incredible, the speed and impact of the archery was something else. It’s hard to describe. There was a female competitor, too (something that has only been recently allowed in the last 30-40 years) and when she came down the tract on her horse you could hear her scream a mile away. It was pretty cool.
Once we finished with he Yabusame, we still had some daylight so we went back into downtown Tsuwano and walked through a multitude of different shrines and holy areas. There’s still so much left to explore, too. I cannot wait to go back. What a cool town. I mean, it’s tucked away in the mountains, no one there really speaks any english and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a torii or seeing a shrine. The coolest was the one all the way on top of a mountain. You had to walk through a hundred orange toriis just to get up to it. Rudy walked the whole thing… ice cream in hand. The kid’s a trooper. He kicks butt! The sights on top were incredible. Like I said, Tsuwano is a super awesome town.
After the shrines, we fed the coi down on the river, packed up the kids, and zigzagged through the mountains back to Iwakuni. What a day. Yabusame is the first Saturday in April and isn’t just in Tsuwano. I could be partial to it because it’s in the next prefecture over, but there are more all over Japan; a few near Tokyo and I’m even told there is one that is held on a beach somewhere… google is a wizard.
This past weekend was the first ever Comic Con in Iwakuni – or at least on the base. I had the honor and privilege to spend the better part of the week with Manga master Steve Bennett and David Peterson, master linguist… and oh by the way he pretty much wrote every language in Game of Thrones, among many other great accomplishments. I’m not the worlds biggest nerd, but these two dudes are pretty kick ass and it was cool to see a Comic Con come to MCAS Iwakuni. Sille year tikh tikh incredible!
So, naturally we hardly ever have a weekend where we’re stuck in the house either day – if at all. If there isn’t some awesome horse archery ceremony going on in the mountains we’ll more than likely head north towards Miyajima or Hiroshima. This time it was Hiroshima. The day was bright and beautiful. We had plans to see the castle again in hopes that it would be open, but we never made it that far.
The last time we were there it was for the light festival right around Christmas time. There were a few things closed the last time we were there, namely the children’s museum. So, we hopped the train and headed up to Hiro. This museum is four levels of super cool stuff that kids totally dig. A multi-storied maze that Rudy was all about, mirrored compartments, electrical experiments, and of course… trains. You know how much Rudy loves trains.
Anyway, we did Hiro and I think the family is pretty drawn to the city here. Hiroshima has a certain flash to it that likens back to Chicago in a sense. It’s definitely cleaner than Chicago, but it gets a regular flush of tourists and has that convenience coupled with the windy city hustle and bustle that draws a lot of people in. The best part is you can look beyond any of the sky scrapers and see either mountains or ocean. That part is pretty cool. I dunno, it would be great to spend more time here…