Where are we going, and why are we in this handbasket?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Japan, April 9th - Tokyo and Osaka

This was the first clear morning we've seen, and when we got up, we could see Mt. Fuji from the window of our room at the Westin Tokyo. The Westin Tokyo is probably the best hotel I've ever stayed at: fancy furnishings, immaculately clean, a huge marble bathroom, and great amenities. Apparently it's a popular wedding venue too, as we saw a few brides in the lobby.

We found a Sensoji temple heron dance listing in a Tokyo events list, and jumped at the chance to see a festival without rain. As always, Sensoji temple was incredibly crowded with tourists. We arrived about a half hour after the festival's scheduled start time, and once we pushed through the crowd, saw people in heron costumes ascending the temple steps. Thinking we had missed the main event, we followed the musicians' cart around a corner, only to find them stopping to clear an area for the heron dance. We serendipitously ended up with a front-row view.

The heron costumes were fabulous - white face makeup, white long-haired wigs, tall and narrow heron-head hats, and articulated feathers. The dance was slow and ceremonial, with drum and flute music in the background. Occasionally a woman who was in the middle of the dance would throw confetti-like slips of paper. Elizabeth picked one up that fell by her feet, and it said "fukuju," prosperity and happiness.

After the recessional, we pushed our way through the crowd to the train station and headed south on the shinkansen, not knowing exactly where we were going. We barely got a glimpse of Mt. Fuji through the window, and stopped in Nagoya to use an internet cafe to look for places to stay. Mysteriously, the cafe charged 300 yen per hour for men and 100 yen per hour for women. We got a cubicle with a huge cushiony floor covering, but didn't have much luck finding accommodations. So we decided to stay at the Westin in Osaka, just one more short train ride away.