At Gotemba, we found out that we had just missed the local bus bound for Lake Yamanaka and Oshino Hakkai and would have to wait another hour for the next one to come along. As we had some time to spare, we decided to cross the road for a quick bite and check out the place. This town looked interesting with its fusion of modern buildings standing side by side with the more traditional wooden shops and eateries. The whole place seemed a bit quiet for a weekend and most shops were shut that afternoon. Hmm. It must be a holiday here, I thought to myself. After several unsuccessful attempts at finding a place to sit down and eat, we had to settle for a bag of french fries while we made our way back to the bus stop for our next destination.
For those who read my post on Oshino Hakkai, I mentioned that we had to leave the place sooner than we wished, in order to catch the last bus back to Gotemba. Frankly, I was feeling a bit disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time in Oshino Hakkai.
As the bus exited left into a slip road and made its way slowly towards the station, I heard a lot of noise outside. I peered out of the window to see what the commotion was about and saw a huge crowd standing in the middle of the street watching a children’s martial arts demonstration.
What do you know! The “quiet” town of Gotemba had completely transformed into a roadside stage of entertainment and colour. What a big difference in the mood and atmosphere from the afternoon! Huge loudspeakers were placed to carry the voices of the announcers over the throbbing beat of music. The air was filled with merriment, music, dancing, karaoke, local bands and the beating of taiko (drums). The sidewalks were lined with many stalls selling an assortment of local snacks as well as fruits and drinks. It seemed like everyone, young and old alike, was out on the streets to celebrate this festival. Some dressed in the traditional kimono and yukata as they strolled under the darkening sky lit by colourful Japanese lanterns. It was thrilling to get the chance to join in the celebrations. By this time, all disappointment was forgotten. We ended up spending more than two hours soaking in the festive atmosphere of the cool evening air infused with the tantalising aroma of Japanese street food.
Further down the block, the street was temporarily cleared for an Owaraji race. This involved a member of the team lying on his stomach on a giant straw slipper (owaraji) while being pulled by two other team members in a race to the finish line. Everyone looked tired after the race, but it was clear from their faces that they had had a lot of fun.