A couple of weekends ago I went to a Japanese fireworks festival and suffice to say that watching fireworks in Japan is just like watching fireworks in the U.S., except better in, uh, every single way.
To start out with, you don’t have to drive. You just put on your bathrobe, which is what the Japanese call a yukata, but really it’s a bathrobe, and your wooden sandals and get on the subway with about a million other people. Know how hard it is to walk down the steps into the station wearing a bathrobe and flip-flops hewn from oak trees? Really freaking hard, that’s how. Those steps are made of like granite or something, and who ever thought of making footwear out of wood anyway? Really need to work on that shoe technology, Japan.
Thank God for Texting
As far as I can tell, the traditional thing to do when you arrive at a Japanese fireworks festival is to wander around in your bathrobe looking at your iPhone trying to locate your friends out of about two billion people. I was supposed to meet a young lady there. Actually, she’s not that young, but hey, at least she’s not a dude, so one out of two isn’t bad. And while I was texting and trying not to trample someone else’s picnic with my oaken clogs, I heard my favorite sound in the whole world, which is
“Want a beer?”
I like that so much. “Do I ever,” I said instantly, and looked down to find a large blue plastic sheet full of guys and gals, all sitting silently. The thing about Japanese people is, frankly, they’re pretty awkward in mixed company. They have the hardest time talking to each other, probably because they’ve never done it. Not real big on communication, the Japanese. That’s where I come in. Japanese people like to invite foreigners because, well, now there’s something to talk about. Namely, my foreign-ness. It’s like if we were a bunch of white people all sitting around having a semi-un-fun picnic, and then suddenly a black guy came by. How entertaining would that be! To have a black guy join our picnic? It’d be awesome! Because, you know, he’s black.
Hi, I’m Ken. I’ll be your Entertainment for the Evening
So I sat down and we all kanpai-ed, and they asked in stilted English where I was from and if I’d ever drunk Japanese sake and if I could use chopsticks until they figured out I actually lived in Japan and spoke Japanese, and it slowly became evident that I wasn’t some tourist to whom they could introduce the wonders of Japan, but rather just an ordinary dude from the next town over who was drinking all their booze. And then my lady friend found me and they were like Oh, you already have a Japanese friend, and then everyone seemed so disappointed and it became awkward again, and I figured maybe Now was time to leave.
So my lady friend and I set up our own plastic sheet next to a children’s swing set under a tree. We had what in theater parlance would be termed a “semi-obstructed view,” meaning that we could see the sky if we squinted hard and used our imaginations. There’s a crazy amount of people at a fireworks festival, is what I’m trying to say. Anyway, I told her to wait for a minute and went off in search of deliciousness. I looked back and she was sitting contentedly on the sheet in her bathrobe, texting away. She looked pretty good, from that distance.
The Two Truths of the Universe
Food at a Japanese festival pretty much follows a theme. Rows of smokey booths offer up fried chicken, fried potatoes, fried noodles, and stuff you never dreamed could be fried like, I dunno, cabbage and squid. Somehow that gets folded into savory pancakes, or the same pancakes with an egg on top, or the same pancakes wrapped around a hot dog and stuck on a stick. So much variety. Well, everything’s good on a stick. That’s one of the two truths of the universe.
The other being that everything tastes good fried. You gotta wonder what people did before frying, like back in the Pleistocene era.
“Hey, Grork, climb off that dinosaur and get over here.
“Yo Ken, what’s up?
“Check out this new way of cooking lizard bone I just invented! I call it ‘fried.’
“Intriguing. Hmm. It’s light, yet crispy. Tastes like chicken. It’ll go well with my new invention, beer. Let’s have a festival.
“Great. If only there were some bright things we could shoot into the sky.
“How about just throwing a bunch of hot coals into the air?
“Dude, you’re a genius. This’ll be big someday.”
Ah jeez, all the good stuff’s already been invented. So I went back to my sheet by the swing set with a quiver of fried food on sticks and several cans of beer. That’s another nice thing about Japan—you can drink outside like a normal adult and nobody’s going to club you with a nightstick and you wake up behind bars. So that’s Advantage, Japan. Like when I lived in the U.S., it was easy to forget drinking outdoors violated some law the Pilgrims dreamed up, because it makes no sense. I mean, having a gin and tonic while enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, that’s just healthy. Who doesn’t like health?
Such things lead to small, let’s just say, misunderstandings, like ones where Ken Seeroi inconveniently goes to jail. What am I, a lawyer—how am I supposed to remember so many rules? Apparently that’s no defense, at least according to the District Attorney. But that’s another story. Anyway, it seems I now have two countries I don’t understand.
But, moving on. About two beers later, the fireworks started, which were pretty much like fireworks anywhere I guess, with lots of Boom and bright lights and shapes of hearts and stars and Hello Kitties. Only it went on for an hour and a half. I don’t recall ever watching fireworks in the U.S. for that long, but maybe the towns I lived in were just cheap with the rockets or something. Either way, that’s a long damn time, especially when you’ve got an attention span of about 30 seconds. Good thing we had all that beer. Even still, I had to go back to the booths twice just for more fried stuff. So much looking up sure makes a brother hungry.
Well, There’s a Drawback to Everything
And then it was over. One last ear-splitting Ker-Blammo where they sent every flammable thing in their arsenal up into the air at once and it was brighter than daylight and then it was suddenly strangely quiet. Then everybody jumped up in their bathrobes, tossed their beer cans and skewers into a tremendous trash pile and rushed for the subway. Which made me realize there’s only one drawback to a Japanese fireworks festival—namely all those damned Japanese people. There sure are a lot of them. My lady friend and I crushed onto a subway car with about five hundred of our closest friends and I hung onto a strap and she hung onto me and we went to sleep standing up and dreaming we could breathe again. Next year, I think I’ll avoid the subway and try some place a little less crowded, like, I dunno, America. Man, that’d be sweet.