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Monday, August 28

A Fire Festival Like There Never Was

What I would love to tell you about is the Mt. Fuji Fire Festival! However, I won't. Because I never got there. Oh no, not for lack of trying. You see... am stupid. Very stupid. And so is the company I travel with.

The festival was to start at 3:30 on Saturday so we decided that we would give ourselves about two hours to get there. That morning, I asked Kimono Hubby to check out our train map and figure out which direction we were to go. I had the ending train station information and the train line information. Neither of these were found on the map we had. Our idea was to go to the train station and ask the attendant. Why we thought this was logical when we already know we only understand every fifteenth word of Japanese was completely idiotic. But that was the plan, whether right or wrong.

About 1:30 pm: Kimono Hubby, Kimono Buddy and I headed out to the train station. There are two train stations by our home. Of course... we picked the wrong one. But the kindly attendant sent us down the road to the next one.

1:40 pm: We got there only to find there was no one to ask for specific directions. However we knew we had to go north to start. We bought the cheapest ticket, 130 Yen (about $1.15), and headed down the track to hop on the train. As we waited on the platform, I went up to someone who read the destination I had written down on a crumpled piece of paper and he went straight in to the train servicemen. They pulled out a massive book and I immediately realized the direction of the day was going to go south. Very south. The servicemen relayed some info the the person I had asked who did his best to relay it to me... in Japanese... and with what I could only assume were correct directions, the three of us jumped onto the approaching train and were off.

2:35 pm: Arrive at the train station in Yokohama where we need to make the first train switch. Not too difficult and we are all feeling a little more confident about our navigational abilities and understanding which trains go in which direction and therefore which trains to get on and which to pass on.

3:03 pm: Still on the same train and the scenery around us is changing from city to small town. About 10 more stops to go to our destination.

3:25 pm: Festival is to start in five minutes and we are no longer confident but more or less sure that we are no where near where we need to be. About 5 more stops to next station.

3:54 pm: Arrive at train station to switch to next line. This line takes us off the map so to be sure, I ask a train serviceman for more direction. He tries to tell us. We don't understand. He writes to words down and we think we get it. We head to the platform for our next train with full knowledge that we will at least arrive at the festival by the time they light the town on fire (the cool part in our eyes) and we are therefore okay with the lateness.

4:15 pm: Train arrives, we board and are off. Again.

4:23 pm: Train makes first stop on line and then continues on to leave area considered civilization.

4:56 pm: Kimono Buddy makes comment that he doesn't think Americans have ever ventured this far before. So as not to cry in frustration, I attempt a laugh and turn and stare out the window. We have only been about 4 stops through this line and with each one, the area outside the window looks more and more desolate. We still are holding on to the knowledge that we only have to reach our destination on this line and then take one more train to the festival. The fires are lit at 6:40... we can still make it.

5:30 pm: Begin to discuss that we may never get there.

5:47 pm: If we turn around now, we may make it back home before the trains close for the night. Maybe. Decide to keep going for one more stop to see if the next is our station.

6:01 pm: Arrive at next station and decide to try for ... one ... more.

6:14 pm: Nope. Get off the train and decide to head back to Yokohama to get some big city food so as the day won't be an entire waste. We are quite certain that no American has walked here before and the people on the train were wondering what in the hell we were doing getting off at that stop. It turned out to be a lovely stop! We were right in the middle of about 15 mountain peaks scattered with a few very traditional Japanese houses resting quietly in the mountain valley. It is dusk but we take some absolutely great pictures and laugh about the 4 1/2 hour train ride we just took to nowhere. We wonder if when we finally get off and pay whatever the true fare is, if they will stop us because the time on the ticket was so long ago. Will they charge just for the distance we actually went... or for the hours that we travelled? All say silent prayer that the rate includes only distance for our new destination back to Yokohama.

6:35 pm: Train arrives to take us back. We settle in.

8:57 pm: Arriving at first switch on the line back. Hungry and exhausted (the last time we ate was around noon) but knowing we only have about 45 minutes left to go before food.

9:44 pm: We are one stop away from Yokohama and food. While waiting for the train to move on, the loudspeaker announces more of the "blah, blah, Japanese speakity, blah" and then moves on.

9:44 and 30 seconds pm: It took Kimono Buddy seconds to realize that the train was now moving back in the other direction... of which we just came from. Perhaps when everyone got off the train at the last stop after the announcement, we should have followed? F-ing hindsight.

9:49 pm: Get off at next stop and wait for yet another train going back the way we want to.

9:55 pm: Train arrives. We board. And at the next stop, hold our breath that it will go just one. more. stop. to Yokohama.

10:01 pm: Success! We arrive in Yokohama. Heading out of the station, we check our fares and blessedly, we only owe about 200 yen for the day's trip. My new plan for visitors is to get on a train with them and stare out the window all day and show them the beautiful country of Japan... from the train window only. If you never leave the station, you never pay more. Like my plan? Want to visit?

We finally wandered in to the only restaurant where there seemed to be one or two English words. We ordered, and ordered some more, and some more. It was delicious! Was that because we were like camels searching for water or was it really a good restaurant? Who knows and who the hell cares?

Back at the train station, Kimono Buddy takes a different line from us to go home. We say our goodbyes and jump on the train to Zushi. It is late when we get there but we only have a five minute walk to the house. Did I say five? It actually took us 25. Yes, we got lost WALKING home. I have no idea how. Kimono Hubby and I weren't speaking at that point. It may be safer to never bring it up again actually.

I do take responsibility for deciding to go to the festival. However, I do not take responsibility for the hapless directions. I told KH to look over the map that very morning. Maybe if any one of the three of us were a little more smart about it, and a lot less adventurous, we would have never tried the trip when we realized the destination wasn't even on the map, therefore telling us that is was more than a few hours away. Oh, how I hate hindsight.

But maybe we'll try again next year.

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