David Chart's Japan Diary

August 29th 2006

I've decided to get the diary back onto the normal schedule, rather than wait for two weeks after the last entry. That way I won't drift further and further behind.It's not been a massively eventful week-and-a-half, what with it being work again, but there is a bit to talk about.

First, we went to see a fireworks display last Saturday. Fireworks are a very summer thing in Japan, but they aren't associated with a particular day. That means that the places in one area tend to stagger their displays; the Tokyo area ones take place throughout August. They are also almost invariably held by or over bodies of water, in theory, I believe, so that you can see the reflections of the fireworks and thus enjoy the event even more.

However, firework displays are very popular. The biggest display in Tokyo, the Sumida River display, typically attracts around a million people. This means that you generally have to watch while jammed into a crowd, and certainly can't see the reflections in the water. The displays also tend to be quite big; the Sumida River display has around 20,000 fireworks.

We didn't go to Sumida. For one thing, it's right on the other side of Tokyo, and for another, it's just too crowded. Instead, we went to the local one, on the Tama River. A lot of people, particularly young women, wear yukatas to firework displays. In fact, if you want to see young women (as opposed to children or middle-aged ladies) in traditional(-ish) Japanese costume, a fireworks display is probably your best bet. Thus, I convinced Yuriko to wear her yukata. That, of course, meant that I had to wear mine. The yukata is fine. I really ought to practice tying the belt every day, but I haven't quite got round to that. It's no harder than tying a tie, but if you have to do it while looking at the instructions, it takes a while. However, I stuck the fan in the belt and put my things in the handbag, and was ready to go out.

I am not use to walking in geta, the Japanese sandals. Basically, they are between-toe flip-flops, and I'm not used to lifting the weight (of substantial pieces of wood) by a band over the knuckles of my toes. There was quite a lot of walking involved, and by the time we got home my feet were really quite painful. Not blistered or anything, and fine once I took the geta off, but walking in the things was not pleasant. My outfit for the wedding involves geta. I am practising wearing them.

When there is a fireworks display on, surrounding roads are closed to traffic, bus stops are closed, and people are discouraged from using the nearest stations. In addition, the city put directions to emptier viewing areas on its website. Yuriko downloaded those, so we headed for one of the areas described as "empty". It was a long walk from the station (see above...), but it was worth it. The area wasn't empty, by any means, but we could spread a groundsheet out and sit down with a couple of metres between us and the nearest other groups of fireworks viewers. We were quite a long way from the display, but could still see well. There was also a railway bridge between us and the fireworks, which made for a very Tokyo scene. One train stayed parked on bridge throughout; I reckon the driver was watching.

The Tama display is fairly small, only about 7,000 fireworks, and over in just under an hour. There were lots of nice rockets, rockets that exploded in one colour, and then changed colour as they expanded, and rockets that exploded in the shapes of smiley faces, fish, hearts, spirals, and cats. The cat rockets need a bit more work, I think; it took me several to work out what they were supposed to be. The others work pretty well. One of these days, I imagine we'll get a firework that explodes into the kanji for "The End", to let people know that the display is over. But not yet.

So, we had a lot of fun watching the fireworks. The weather was perfect; not too hot, not too windy, no rain. We had a comfortable viewing spot. And the fireworks themselves were good. We're definitely thinking of going back next year (which might be the next chance we get to wear the yukata).

On the way back, we had to go slow because of my feet. We decided to stop at a soba shop for dinner, which meant that we reached the nearest railway station an hour and a half after the fireworks finished. It was still packed with people leaving the display, and full of staff directing the crowds to make sure that no-one was injured. (That happened at a display a few years ago, and people died, so the authorities are very careful now.) I dread to think what it was like half an hour after.

This weekend, I didn't do anything exciting. Yuriko went to an Art Triennale in Niigata prefecture. It's spread out over hundreds of square miles of countryside, and I wish I could have gone with her. Unfortunately, it's not something I could justify taking a day off work for, given that I will have to take time off around the wedding, and it's also not something that could be done in a day. So, she went with one of her university friends and had a lovely time while I sent her emails about being all alone and forgotten in Tokyo. (Actually, I had a good time getting a lot of reading done, so it was OK.)

Which brings us on to work. Today has been a good day. Not that I've got an enormous amount done (I haven't), but several good things have happened.

First, my pay for editing Ars Magica this year came through. My bank balance is looking a lot healthier now.

Second, I got an email from another publisher this morning offering me some work for an RPG I would like to write for. (It's a publisher I've worked with before, but a different game.) So that's good. My writing career seems to have got to the point where, around the time I start thinking I should be proactively looking for work, someone writes to offer me some.

And then, today, I had an English lesson with one of my longest-standing pupils. At the end, she insisted on increasing the amount that she pays for lessons, on the grounds that my lessons are so good that they are worth more. I confess I only objected a little bit.

Overall, definitely a good day.