We were looking forward to comparing our experience with the luxury hotels Asia has sprinkled around the continent like pearls on a necklace with those of Japan. We were on our way the Obon Festival by train when we found out it is about the busiest travel days of the year in Japan. My guide and now wife Niki could only shrug her shoulders (she might have if she had had space to move in the throngs waiting to get on to the train to Tokyo) at the sea of humanity trying to get any where but here. Apparently the festival is where people return to their hometowns and believe it is the time when the spirits of ancestors return and are reunited with their families. We looked forward to seeing a traditional Bon Odori dance. It is performed to light and happy music to invite the souls of the dead (one would think they would be happy just to show up, and the music is quite nice).
A couple from Nagata whom we were sitting with on the train explained that the best part of the celebration was the teriyaki buffet that is often set out, as well as the sakes one could sample and the great Japanese beer, all to the rhythm of the taiko drums. There may well be bonsai displays and even contests, as this art of gardening is taken very seriously in Japan. It sounds like a county fair for honoring the dead. I do not know if thinking about one’s ancestors is what folks back in Austin do when they go to a fair, but it might not be a bad idea. Happily, our new friends has some rice rolls with them that they had planned to eat on the train. We produced some of our own teriyaki beef and we decided it would be great fun to combine our lunches like a pot luck. I wonder what they call pot luck in Japanese? We had a wonderful lunch and regrettably, never saw them again.