Sunday, August 29, 2010

Asakusa Samba Carnival & Kouenji Awa-Odori

My mom came into Tokyo yesterday afternoon and after a 2+hr train ride consisting of obsessive sudoku andshifty-eyed school girls (I had narrowly avoided the Shibuya-bound train where someone committed suicide at Ookurayama Station), I was able to pick her up in a fairly empty Narita Airport. There's something about the eye-contact you make with people at airports that makes feels both liberating and terrifying. The kind of look strangers give each other when they are alone and looking for potential allies (and I'll leave the word allies up for interpretation).

As usual, I freak out when people come to visit. It's always a run-around to figure out the best things to show the person visiting, the right restaurants to take them to, the inconveniences to avoid (i.e. crowded places), all of which I have thoroughly failed at since my mom has come.

I took her to see the Asakusa Samba Carnival this afternoon, which is a much more tame version of the Rio de Janeiro variety where women dance in thongs and wear massive feather headdresses while men don chicken and turtle outfits and prance around (ok, I have no idea if this is actually like the real Brazilian sambas).


Behold the men in all their chicken glory

The event supposedly attracts about 500,000 people each year, which felt like a gross underestimation as I found myself pressed up against a sweaty old man in aviator glasses on one side and an homocidal-looking, overly tanned woman on the other. We stayed for a couple of dances until my mother claimed the intense drumming was giving her a near heart attack, and we quickly escaped to the nearest supermarket before heading to Ueno.

Might I add that apparently Asakusa-dori can be aptly renamed to "death shrine path" because for nearly a mile of walking, all we saw were Buddhist Shrines, cemeteries, and temples....and a random McDonalds.

Our company on the heatstroke-inducing walk included a large, talkative Russian man in a straw farmer hat and shaded sunglasses (yes, there was basically mini parapets coming out of the top of his sunglasses), as well as his two tiny and submissive tour-guides. At one point the Russian man ran to the window of one of the death shrine shops, peered in through the window (which I'm sure already terrified the shopkeepers), and exclaimed, "excellent craftsmanship!"

When we finally arrived in Ueno, we thought it would be a good idea to look for some sweets or shaved ice shop, so after a debilitating walk through the sun and overly friendly fish peddlers ("hey girly, you want some tuna?"), we happened upon "Mihashi," which after some google-ing, I found is actually a fairly famous anmitsu shop in Tokyo. I think I should mention that I still find it rather endearing to see men in this country confident enough in their manhood to go out in pairs to snack on ice cream and sweets together in fancy shops.

We ended up ordering the summer special which included a bed of crushed red bean, heaps of shaved ice with green tea sauce, topped with fresh vanilla soft serve and four shiratama (mochi balls).

Afterwards, we headed to the Kouenji Awa-Odori, which is touted as the second largest Awa-Odori festival in Japan, second only to the one held in Tokushima. This dance experience was easily less traumatizing than the bone-crushing Samba Carnival from the afternoon. We managed to push to the front of the wave of people toward the back-end of the dance where we got to see dancers in traditional clothes fist-bump each other (and some additional complicated mating-like elbow-fist-ass bump that just confused me) before they actually began their dances.
In the middle of their secret handshake

I think this was some makeshift food/liquor peddling
bazaar that someone built outside their garage....

I think what amazed me the most was the amount of male hip action that went into the Taiko drumming. If you have ever seen Voldo from SoulCaliber or the red-headed lady from "Who Framed Roger Rabbit," you know what I'm talking about. I also desperately tried to take a picture of this terrifying man in an ankle-length red wig and a tengu mask on his crotch who was apparently hired for the sole purpose of running at people in the crowd and scaring them, but he wouldn't turn around and look at me...
The red-wig man and his formidable master

After my mom could no longer take the tall and sweaty man (who was twittering on his blackberry about the festival instead of watching the festival) pushing her with his ass, or the hollering police officers who kept telling people that they were not allowed to watch the dance from where the area where the dance was most interesting, we high-tailed it out of the deluge of people....only to end up in another wave of humans, except these were more drunk and hungry, gorging on hot dogs and yakisoba and convenient store-bought chu-hais on the street. I swear I saw a child buying a beer at one point.

Because of the massive crowds, we gave up on food in Kouenji and headed back to Hiyoshi. And because I am terrible at planning and listening to common sense, I brought my mom, who has stomach problems, to Don, a ramen place by Hiyoshi Station which almost always gives me stomach problems after I eat it.
Far more debilitating than it looks.

Thankfully she ate less than half of the bowl, knowing her limits. I, unfortunately, was not so wise. Excuse me while I lie down now...

1 comment:

Biligtei said...

Dear god sir, I thought I'd NEVER see you post ever again *sob*. I love the chicken suits by the way, please... get me one o_O. I feel like wearing it will inspire me to tackle random strangers on the street and get in an all out brawl like that chicken from Family Guy... >_>;; secret dream come true :'(