Friday, August 7, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
Friday, August 7, 2009
Rode 90km (55 miles) from Hikone to Kyoto.
It was muggy and in the low 90's as Sho and I started the day with a visit to Hikone Castle. Ignoring the uncomfortable heat, we spent an hour and a half exploring the castle grounds and debating the various ways an attacking army might succeed in taking over the castle. We both agreed that it would not be easy.
As we biked for around 6 hours from Hikone to Japan's ancient capital of Kyoto, we had to stop frequently to drink in order to keep from becoming dehydrated in the oppressive heat. We hugged the coastline of Lake Biwako, enjoying beautiful views of the massive lake, which sometimes tricked us into thinking it was the ocean. A constant stream of traffic passed by, keeping us hemmed in on the narrow road. It was a relief when we reached the impressive Biwako Ohashi Bridge, which offered a wonderful view and a pedestrian way to keep us safe from the vehicles zooming by.
We made our way to Hama Ohtsu, a town on the southwest corner of Lake Biwako, then turned west for the long climb over the hills surrounding Kyoto. We noticed many men and woman strolling around in festive kimono's, deducing that there must be a summer festival going on in the town. As we rode out of Hama Ohtsu, we passed a line of cars caught in an incredible traffic jam coming towards us that didn't stop until we reached Kyoto an hour later. We asked a passerby what was going on, and he explained that there was a major fireworks display starting at 7:30pm. Sho and I thought that would be a great way to end the day and determined to return by train to enjoy the festivities.
I had anticipated a hard push to bike over the hills surrounding Kyoto, but after all of our mountain climbing in the Japan Alps the previous week, we hardly noticed the effort! After checking into our hotel, we quickly showered and rushed out to catch a train going back the way we'd come. On the 30-minute ride to Hama Ohtsu, we excitedly anticipated the awesome fireworks display we were going to witness. As we neared our destination, loud booms reverberated outside, and we joined others on the train straining to catch glimpses of the fireworks display through the windows. When we arrived, we encountered a large number of police officers trying to control the impressive crowd of people. It was difficult simply to leave the train station, as each exit we tried was blocked off, creating crowded pools of people milling around in confusion. Flashes of light and explosions nearby teased us with the knowledge that we were missing all the action. After 15 minutes of fruitless attempts simply to get down from the train station to the street, a friendly officer let us jump over a barricade, and we made our way to a nearby intersection full of onlookers. Our view was obstructed by buildings, so we could only see the explosions high in the air. Sho asked if we could go to the lakeside about a half mile away for a better view, but I had a bad feeling about this situation, and decided to stay put.
The show ended 10 minutes later, and immediately masses of people started to converge on the station, and nervous police officers started yelling directions. Sho and I realized how insanely crowded it was about to become and raced up the staircase into the train station. Many others ran alongside us, like people fleeing a natural disaster. As we rushed along a crowded corridor leading to the turnstiles, we rounded a corner to find a line of police officers pulling up a barricade. We were told to stop. A mass of people closed in on us from behind, and we were soon trapped in a sea of thousands of nervous revelers. The summer night's heat and humidity were oppressive and made worse by the press of people. Sho and I nursed a bottle of water we that that was 1/3 full, wondering how long we would have to wait.
Ever increasing numbers of people were trapped behind us and another barricaded entrance to our left. Each group eyed the other, wondering which one the police would let through first. The authorities held us there for about 20 minutes until a huge block of people amassed at the turnstiles had shuffled onto the waiting trains below, then gave our group the go-ahead. Sho and I pushed forward and were caught again in a crushing standstill at the turnstiles. It took another 20 minutes to squeeze our way down to the train platform. Sho held on tightly to my hand and finished off our water. When our train arrived, we were crammed in along with the rest of humanity, riding practically cheek-to-cheek with strangers until we reached the outskirts of Kyoto.
By the time we returned to our hotel, we had been gone for 2 hours and had only seen 10 minutes of fireworks!
"Now you know what the word 'fiasco' means," I joked to Sho, as we got out of our sweat-soaked clothes and cleaned off. We snuggled in bed, happy to be safely far removed from the insane crowds of the Hama Ohtsu Fireworks Festival.