Yahiko Mountain and Nagaoka Fireworks

Took the day off work yesterday to do a little bit of sightseeing around Niigata. Julia and Yamaya-san (the giver of the car) took me to practice driving and showed me the routes to the other three junior highs I will eventually be teaching at. I’m not sure if I’ll actually be able to remember how to get there, but it’s nice to have an idea of where I’m going. They also showed me how one gets gas in Japan, which I’m sure will be very helpful. Apparently, they went to check on the shakken (kinda like Japanese tabs) and insurance earlier in the week and everything is all set. I’m still kind of amazed at it all.

After a while, Yamaya-san took the wheel and drove me out to Yahiko Mountain. We were supposed to go see the shrine, but Julia had to be back in the early afternoon so we settled for taking a cable car up to the top of the mountain and eating ice cream up there. It was very pretty – you could see the Sea of Japan. Some pictures:

Looking down from the top…

Kristi and Julia…

After that, we drove back to Kamo and had lunch at Pinokio. I seem to be becoming quite the regular there already; I’m told that my predecessor ate there almost every day, so I guess people choose it as a meeting place out of habit. And admittedly, the food is very good. I’m particularly fond of their seafood pizza (which is remarkably good, by “real” pizza standards).

Anyway, after the adventures with Julia and Yamaya-san, I headed back to the apartment for some rest. The evening proved to be even busier. I took the train from Kamo to Nagaoka and met up with a bunch of other ALTs from the area for the Nagaoka Matsuri (Festival). A bunch of people had literally just arrived from their Tokyo orientation (Group B – I was in Group A), so they were pretty wiped out. Anyway, it was good to meet other JETs and talk about our different situations. And to get to know some people that I can maybe go exploring with.

The highlight of the Nagaoka Matsuri is its huge fireworks display, which are reportedly . They have two – one on each night of the festival and supposedly set off more than 10,000 rockets per night. Countless people lined the banks of the river to see the show, which was totally different from American-style fireworks. Instead of a 30-45 minute display, the show was broken up into 45 “rounds”, for lack of a better word. They’d say the number and talk a bit over the loudspeakers before each display, which gave it somewhat of a marathon feel. We had to have been there for at least two hours, trying to guess how many rounds they’d do. My favorite parts were when they lighted up the bridges with fireworks, making them look like huge waterfalls of light. I took a short video of a few of the displays. Click here to download one of them (Quicktime required).

Anyway, I didn’t get back til almost midnight, so I’m pretty tired. For once I slept until my alarm clock went off instead of popping out of bed around 6:00 am or so. I guess that’s a good sign. And I think I’ll be leaving the office right at 11:30 to go have myself a nap. Tomorrow I have to go back to Nagaoka for a meeting at the Chuetsu Board of Education, so I should rest up. Nagaoka is the second largest city in the Niigata prefecture, so I’d like to have a look around. Maybe pop into a book store or something. That’s all for now. :)