We started our day off at 8:00 am, lots of hitting the snooze button, which felt good on a Friday morning. Ruth came to get us for our flight at 9:30am ready to whisk us off to ensure we are there with plenty of time to spare. We were very early, as there was no one in the security line up! A very stress free experience! Tricia and I bummed around, and ate A&W. She kept looking at me all lovingly like she is now as I write this on the plane. Currently we are stressed about a package Christina made us bring, it’s full of clothing, but we don’t know how much is in there and what it costs.
We arrive without much trouble. Customs was a breeze and we pass on to the JR EAST ticket booth. Our first lineup of the trip and the basement of Narita was already quite hot for our unaccustomed Canadian bodies. It is about an hour wait for us to get our tickets, already pouring sweat. We proceed down below the airport even further to catch the NEX express to Kanagawa Station. Tricia stops to hit up her first vending machine. I like how excited she gets every time we see one, it’s sure to wear off soon as they are literally everywhere. We are both a little sleepy on the express line but I nodded off a bit on the way to the next station. We have a long day of riding trains ahead of us. I was a little unprepared for the news that it will take a lot longer than expected, as some trains we are not allowed to ride. The Nozomi and Mizuo lines we are not allowed to ride as they are not included in the cost of the JR PASS. They're super-duper-express or something like that. Our trip will take us NEX -> Kanagawa -> Shin-Osaka -> Hiroshima. This lands us at 11:45 instead of the 9:30pm I was expecting based off my Google search. Getting out on to the platform at Shin-Osaka was like stepping into the fires of hell. I can’t believe the heat, and at the clothing some of the locals are wearing, like how could anyone wear one pants in this weather? Clearly they’re a bit accustomed to it, and I'm not. Thank god for MEC and moisture wicking clothes. Towards the end of the Osaka->Hiroshima leg Tric and I both fall asleep, and clearly quite deeply. We awake to find the train stopped, everyone off, and a few Japanese train employees quietly saying ‘sumimasen, Hiroshima’. I think Tricia shooed them away in her sleepy state. I awake very suddenly when my brain catches up and I realize where we are and said my 'gomennasai’ and we embarrassingly disembark with our bags. Thank goodness I didn’t forget anything as I was not all there yet. It felt like when you wake up, look at the clock, realize you've slept in and then have to rush around. We stepped out into the humid, hot evening, recomposed ourselves and marched to our hotel. It took a bit of wandering, but was generally quite easy. Our room was kept at a cool 22 degrees and was so very frosty. It would be a great refuge from the heat in the coming days.
We awake early, Tricia is doe-eyed and ready to explore. Downstairs we find a little pamphlet that the hostel put together and we take one of their breakfast recommendations which is a 5 minute walk. It’s a very nice cafe with 10 seats and 1 super nice owner. We get a katsu style sandwich which comes with fries. A bit strange to have fries for breakfast, but what itsn’t a bit strange in Japan? From breakfast we backtrack and head to Hiroshima station, from here we can take the local JR line to Miyajimaguchi Station, and then a ferry to Miyajima. Itsukushima-jinja is the destination as is the giant Tori gate that is in the bay. It’s a bit reminiscent of Lake Louise or Moraine, but where tourists are brought in by the literal boatload. We explore the shrine, and get out right up to the torii as the tide was very low. A quick pass through of Itsukushima was done. We go for a wander, it was too hot to spend too much time anywhere and there wasn’t much of a breeze to be had. We basically went anywhere that had a bit of air conditioning, popping in to little tourist shops to investigate. We found a little garden area that was built around some boulders that came down Mt.Misen during a rockslide.This was a nice cool area near a little river that passed through, Very pretty, but I don’t know how the gardeners were working in this wether, Again, impressed at the clothing some people were wearing.
We are getting a little overwhelmed with the heat now, and decide it’s time to head back to the train. The ferry back was nice, a pleasant sea breeze. (P.S most of this journal is going to be about the heat, and nice breezes.) We take the train back to the hostel, and touch base with Christina to determine how we will meet up and see the Hanabi festival down in Fukuoka. We will have to move fast, as she wants to meet at 4. A quick prep of our bags (we might stay the night, better bring a toothbrush) and we are off back to Hiroshima Station. We take the Sakura Shinkansen, which has us arrive in Hakata Station, Fukuoka around 3:40, we have 3 minutes to catch our next train which we obviously miss. It’s only a 15 minute ride to our final stop Onojo station. We miss it though on the next train, as we get on a rapid line and weren’t listening to the audio alerting us of our stop. The directions said to go 5 stops. So we hop on the train going back, and find some WiFi to touch base with Christina. She’s already departed, couldn’t wait for us, and instructed us to go on to Kurume Station where the festival was taking place. After finding our way to Kurume Station, we call Christina and agree to meet at the festival. She’s sure to spot us as I'm rather easy to spot in a crown here. There are so many people here though, I understand close to 50,000. Christina is in a traditional yukata, as is her friend Yuki. Christina and Yuki have a tarp to sit on, andthankfully Tric brought a camp towel for us. Still it is a very long festival, as we get there quite early, and will be sitting for a few hours before it begins. I did get up to explore a bit and take some photos. I find a nice snow cone spot, and got some food. Lots of food vendors and a shrine nearby. The fireworks finally begin at 7:40 (they would go until 9:10). It was really quite a sight to behold, lots of oohs and ahs and clapping. They are broken up, with what seemed like corporate sponsors for each one, with each display lasting for 2-5 minutes. I’m told that 18,000 fireworks are used in all. Some I’d never seen before, it certainly puts the Stampede to shame.
Our feet and backs are hurting at this point and Tricia is feeling the need to leave. We stay 'til the end however, and leaving this festival is truly one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. I kind of wondered as we were arriving, there is only 1 train station near this event. How is everyone going to leave? The line at the train station was beyond belief, must have been 1 kilometer long, snaking around the station. I said at some point as we walked all the way to the back “This isn’t going to work for me”. Tricia is on the verge of a panic attack, the weather is hot, breathing in stuffy hot air, we're tired of carrying our bags, and the crowd is overwhelming. We march back toward the front of the line and see if we can take the Shinkansen, and hop the fence into the line. We’re now at the front, and very quickly are crammed on to a train. It really isn’t any worse than a Ctrain at rush hour. That ordeal could have been much worse though, as it’s possible that we were stranded there after the festival had we not caught a train by the time the last train ran. We head back to Christina’s place as we agreed during the festival. I am a bit apprehensive, as I’m sweaty and don’t have a change of clothes, but she lets us shower at her place. Tomorrow I’ll be smelly. Tricia and I share her double bed, and she sleeps on the floor. It was really nice to catch up and see her again, as it’s been a year since she moved to Japan.