On Thursday October 27th, one of my dreams came true.

As soon as my classes ended, I ran to the school bus and took the train to Nagoya Station, one thing on my mind and in my ear buds: Dir en grey, the band that's dominated my playlists for years.

Dir en grey has been my favorite band for a long time, but in spite of that I've never seen them live. When I was in high school the concerts were too far away, or on a school night, and when I moved back to Hawaii for college, flights to concerts started at $800. It seemed like I would never get the chance to see them.

When I found out I was coming to Japan this Fall, and Dir en grey would be playing their AGE QUOD AGIS tour, I did everything I could to secure a ticket. I missed presales, stalked Yahoo auctions only to have my agent advise against buying tickets, and even asked lolita shopping services if they knew how to secure tickets. Finally, I turned to a source in Japan, who runs a popular Dir en grey translation site. Much to my shock, she offered to sell me some of her tickets. 

It was as easy as her emailing me a ticket number, which I took to Family Mart, a local conbini. At the "Family Port" kiosk, all I had to do was enter this number into the ePlus system, and it printed a receipt, which I took to the cashier, who printed my ticket. There was only a 105 yen fee for printing. 

At first, I got lost trying to find Nagoya Zepp. It is about five blocks down from Nagoya Station, tucked away from the main road. The only way I found it was by cautiously tailing a cluster of girls with lip piercings and pink hair. Eventually they caught up to a girl in a petticoat and a Dir en grey hoodie, so I knew we were on the right path.

The first thing I saw coming down the street was the enormous Dir en grey semi truck:

Where staff were coming and going, setting up tables inside for a meet-and-greet session. About fifty people went into that, I figure they were fanclub only, or won a contest.

Read more under the jump-cut!

Green Tea Mousse and Tabelog

One of the best parts about traveling is trying hidden local eateries. 

Ohsu is full of them- from a cafe themed as an old 70s garage, to the general fare of wax katsu and udon displays, to seedy 'relaxation maid cafes' on the upper levels of buildings. (Where I hear the maids will let you rest your head in their lap, and they'll clean out your ears. I think it's an urban legend. Or, I hope so.) 

While wandering with my friend, we found a place called "Traditional House Cafe". The store front is dark, wooden, and the entrance is a heavy sliding door, so the only thing giving its presence away is the bulletin board outside. 

We admired the menu and decided it was worth a try. We pulled open the door hesitantly, and to our pleasant surprise, found a tenant waiting at the counter as two girls chatted away at a table. She asked us if we'd like to sit on the second floor, and we went for it.

We ascended a wooden stair case, into rooms with mixed tatami mats and velvet upholstered couches. The color palette was a mix of traditional and modern: cherry wood, matcha green, accented with gold and violet.

We picked our seats in front of a window looking out into the shopping alley. 

We sat for a few minutes watching the people below, as unaware of the quiet cafe as we were. When our orders came, we were at a loss for words.

I ordered a Matcha parfait, and received:

This. Thick green tea mousse over vanilla ice cream, with green tea cake and rich whipped cream. It was huge too, I tried to get my friend to split with me! 

But she was pretty occupied... 

... with her matcha hot cocoa (her photo). 

We left, eager to walk off all the calories, but completely content. 

Of course, when you're wandering around in a new area where people don't speak your native language, how are you supposed to know about the reputation of restaurants and cafes? For those in Japan or who want to visit Japan, and have at least intermediate Japanese, I recommend Tabelog. (食べログ)The name is written with the kanji for "food" or "to eat", and "Log" in katakana. Nice and simple, right? 

Similar to Yelp!, Tabelog provides detailed reviews of restaurants in your area, from corner cafes to gourmet dining rooms. You can narrow search results by prefectures and cities, then by categories, down to menu items. For example, even if you narrow your search to "Cafe", options like "Coffee" and "Tea" appear. 

The reviews are based on a five-star system, with customer-provided photos and comments. If you click on a venue it provides all contact information, the address on Google Maps, and usually coupons too. 

You can find the Tabelog top page here, and begin by selecting your prefecture or main city. 

Go forth with confidence and an appetite!

Student Survival Guide: Public Transport

I wish that somebody wrote a how-to guide before I moved here. I had read blogs beforehand, but most were from the male point of view, in a country other than Japan, or the authors dropped off the face of the planet after arriving in Japan.

I decided to write 'Student Survival Guides' on different topics, to help others who want to study abroad in Japan. By the way, I'm not doing this for a scholarship or any type of profit, so I'll say what I think, not a dressed up version.

Where to start though?

How about, with the first thing you will probably have to deal with when you get off the plane: buses and trains.

I'm from Hawaii, where I took the bus everywhere, but maybe in your hometown public transportation isn't as common.

At the train station, you buy your ticket from a vending machine. First, locate your destination on the map or chart posted by the vending machine. In Nagoya, I've found things are always written in romaji (Roman characters) somewhere, so have no fear if you can read few or no kanji. That map will tell you how much you need to pay for your ticket.

For example, if you want to from my home station to Nagoya Station, the cost is 290 yen; if you want to go to Sakae, it is 260 yen. When you put in coins or bills, buttons will light up depending on how much I put in. If I press the 260 button, I will get my 260 yen ticket to Sakae, and the change will be dispensed.

There are automated turn stiles at the stations. You feed your ticket into one end, walk through, and it will pop up at the other side. Don't forget to grab it, you'll need it to disembark at your destination.

When you step onto a platform, there will be an analog clock with the current time, and a digital clock projecting the time of the text train (and the train after that, sometimes). The trains arrive roughly every five minutes.

One side of the platform goes one direction; the other side of the platform goes another direction. The sign with the clocks will tell you which city or train station that train is headed for. It sounds redundant, but trust me, I boarded the train in the wrong direction when I wasn't paying attention.

When your train is approaching the platform, a song will play. Every station has a different melody. 

If you are traveling with suitcases, please be mindful of others. Bullet trains have areas at the front of each train car where you can stow and lock your bags, but the subways aren't equipped for this.

On the subway, there are seats reserved for the elderly and pregnant women, please watch where you sit. Even if you're in an 'open' seat, always offer your seat to the elderly.

There are women-only cars. It's normally one or two central cars, on weekdays during the morning and evening commute.

The name of every station will be announced on the intercom as you approach it. It will also be displayed on a digital screen at the front of the car, sometimes in romaji (roman characters) too. Sometimes these announcements will be made in English. If you disembark at Nagoya Station, the announcement is made in several languages!

When you disembark a train, locate the exit and proceed. You will probably have to take an escalator down or up. You'll have to exit through a wicket, which is just a checkpoint of turnstiles. Insert that ticket you were supposed to hang on to, and proceed through the gate. It will be 'eaten' by the machine, and you go on your merry way.

What if you bought the wrong ticket? Remember when I said your fare may vary by your destination? Once I bought a 260 yen ticket when I meant to buy a 290 yen one. When I was exiting through the wicket, a bell rang, and the doors closed on me.

The solution was simple though. All I had to do was walk over to a window where a tenant helped me adjust my fare. I paid him the extra 30 yen, and exited smoothly through the manual door. If there's not a tenant, there will be an automated fare adjustment kiosk, with options in English and other languages. 

Besides buying a ticket every trip, if you are in a hurry you can invest in a Manaca (マナカ) card. These silver cards have a yellow smiley face on them, and act as prepaid passes for buses and subways. You can buy them at vending machines right next to ticket vending machines.

All you have to do is pay a 500 deposit for the card itself, then you can load it up with as much cash as you want. You can pay in denominations of 1,000 yen. Then, because of the chip inside, that money stays on your card like a virtual account.

Every time you pass through a wicket, all you do is swipe your card over the Manaca pad (it's blue), and the fare is automatically deducted from your account.

Now, it's not the trains that scare me. If you get lost on a train, all you have to do is get off at a station, consult a map, and catch another train back the way you want to go. Technically, as long as you don't exit through a wicket, you don't have to buy another ticket. You could ride the train around all day if you want, if you're a train enthusiast; it's not like a roller coaster, where you have to get off every time.

Buses? Totally different story.

Once, my friend and I got lost coming home from our station. We stood in the wrong bus terminal and took a bus somewhere we had never been before, then had to catch a cab home, since it was the last bus for the night. 

If you pay attention and know where you're going, the bus is great. If it's your first time, you'll want to take a well-adjusted friend.

Some buses in Japan want you to pay when you exit the bus; our local buses have you pay when you board. The fare is 200 yen, or you can use your Manaca card on the touch pad. After that, you just take a seat or stand. As with trains, offer seats to the elderly and pregnant.

My stops are easy to remember; whether I'm going to the station or coming home, it is always the last stop. If your stop is somewhere in-between, you press an orange button that says "とまります (tomarimasu)", which means "stop". Exit through the back door and continue your adventure.

Buses and trains are nice, but it can rack up... 200 yen for the bus to the station, 260 to get to a destination... your round trip could easily break 1,000 yen, depending on how many stops you take. What's an adventuring student to do?

Wait until the weekend, and buy a pass!

At vending machines (at least in Nagoya), you can buy a green paper pass for 600 yen. Good for one day, these passes grant you unlimited access to subways and buses. I've only used them once for a field trip, so it may have even more perks I'm not aware of! 

Like I said above, you should prepare for trips by knowing your destination and route ahead of time. If you get lost, don't panic; sometimes all it takes is a cool head to figure out your route home. Also, check the time tables at your home stations, so you know when the last bus and train come. Make sure you don't miss them!

If you are caught up the creek without a train... as my friends say, you have two options: Taxi or Karaoke! 

Seriously. Karaoke places are usually open twenty-four hours, sometimes with unlimited soft drinks. Depending on how late you're out, it may be cheaper to rent a private karaoke room and chill out until the next train home, than it is to hail a cab. 

For cabs, a twenty minute ride may cost between 5,000-7,000 yen. Ouch. The benefits are that your cab should have a GPS installed, for confidence in your driver. Not to mention, it's always worth it to sleep safe in your own bed. 

Now, you can consider yourself primed on public transport; or at least everything you'll exhaust as an exchange student sans bike and car. 

Good luck and grand adventures!

Keep the Kabuki

Yesterday, I went on a NUFS sponsored field trip to see a Kabuki play in Fushimi. According to the Digest, it is one of the '18 Best Pieces of Kabuki'. Nobles of the Edo period found it charming, but college students may have a harder time relating to this ancient theatre art.

Let me say, it's not what I expected. While I appreciate the value of immaculate, painstakingly ritualistic performance, it was not my cup of ocha.

Pictures and video in the theatre were strictly forbidden, but I managed to steal a shot before the show started.

The costumes were stunning, even from high in the rafters where we were seated. I wish the camera rules weren't so strict, because the costumes were the only stimulating thing during two hours acts of dialogue.

My favorite parts were the brief moments when a geisha would enter the stage with her entourage. She wore layers and layers of vibrant embroidered kimono, with glinting golden adornments in her large, heavy-looking up-do. The geisha's black lacquered geta were almost a foot tall, a man humbly stretching to hold parasol for her against the harsh lights of the stage.

I had no idea that Kabuki theatre moved so slowly... the entire production was about four and a half hours long, split into three acts and two intermissions. Let's just say, a lot of people were doing their kanji homework in our group.

Essentially scenes would flow this way: a character enters the stage. Fans of that actor applaud or yell out their name. Long dialogue is delivered in a dramatic voice you can't understand unless you are fluent (and possibly also familiar with Kabuki). Sometimes the characters change positions or sit down.

That made up 70% of the show. The rest of the time, there were entertaining dances. Most of the second act had a pair of friends who had been tied up as punishment- one with his hands behind his back, the other with his arms tied to a long pole lying across his shoulders. 

While commiserating, they find a large canister of sake, drink, and begin dancing while tied up. The two friends were wearing vibrant green and orange hakama embroidered with circles, which billowed with every movement. Even while bound they managed to throw, catch and dance with gold fans, that glinted in the warm spot light. 

The live music was performed by an orchestra of sorts, equipped with shamisen, traditional drums and flutes. Sometimes they were on stage as part of the scenery, other times they were hidden behind set elements like fake tea house fronts. The kabuki actors added a staccato beat by 'stomping', or I'd rather say, cracking their sandal against the wood of the stage. 

I honestly preferred the intermissions. Not just because of the colorful omiyage tables and dango ripe for the purchase, but for the fellow audience members milling about. 

Many ladies came dressed in full kimono. One woman even painted her face, wore pink and red kanzashi, and vibrant kimono.

The theatre was gorgeous. The lobby was decorated in rust and gold hues, with lanterns, autumn garlands, and flower arrangements in every corner.

NUFS absorbed most of the cost of this outing, which I didn't realize until I got my ticket. As students, we paid 2,500 yen for the ticket, bus, and an obento meal... but just the ticket alone was 6,500 yen! No wonder everyone else was so dressed up... we were terribly under dressed!

Our next NUFS-sponsored field trip is a weekend excursion to Hiroshima. I am so glad our school offers us the chance to experience Japanese culture outside the classroom, and at a generously subsidized cost! 

Until our next adventure... 

Joining the Cult

I'm not sure who said "When in Rome, do as the Romans", but I'm sure they'd say the same thing about being in Japan. Here, when a trend catches on, it saturates every store and walks around on every person. 

To be honest, I'm not a fan of the 'look' right now, if you can call it a look. The staple pieces are sheer blouses with polkadots or prints, oxford shoes, berets, opaque tights in vegetable hues and bow ties.

Though the library frump fest didn't appeal to my palette, the more I see it parading around on the members of the department store fashion cult, the more it grows on me. Though I wasn't ready to dive feet-first into a pair of mustard argyle socks, I thought I'd take a crack at something more subtle.

I fished this generic polka dotted dress off a rack at a local department store, similar to so many others I had seen around before. The price tag wasn't bad, just over 1,500 yen including the belt. 

I wandered over to the tights and selected a lovely carrot hue to match, for only 280 yen. The beret was a score from Ohsu in a 300 yen shop.

Since the waist is elasticated, it creates a nice hourglass shape instead of a bag lady silhouette. The hemline is short and fluttery, a nice distinction from so many grannies who have donned pearl buttons in the past.

 You don't have to go overboard with new trends; it's okay to try new things and bring in your own taste. 

For example, the typical ensemble on my campus would be a rust colored dress with beige polkadots, a black ribbon bow tie, mustard yellow tights and brown boots. Those colors are closer to the 70s than I ever wanted to be, which is why I opted for a solid black dress, and chose one pop of color to emphasize. 

Are there any new trends where you're from, that you're waiting to try?

Bewitching Boz

Yesterday my friend and I headed down to Sakae, since Angelic pretty advertised a Halloween special on their Nagoya blog. 

The deal was, if you spend 3,150 yen you earn a free "Original Print Candy." On the train, we speculated over what it could be... Kira Imai wrappers? Tricky Night hard candy? Melty Moon chocolates? ...things that would make good gifts for friends, or prizes for a contest. 

But as it turned out, the special candy was just the lollipop in the picture (I should have guessed!). 

My friend and I agreed it wasn't worth it; especially since at the time, AP didn't have any Halloween items for sale. (I didn't get a glimpse of the new witch set until I got home, and my friend showed me on Facebook!)

So AP was a bust. We made our rounds about the Nova Lolita floor, since we were there. 

Maya and Aiji from LM.C were visiting the Kera shop...

They're playing Budokan on January 8th, and my friend in Tokyo invited me to go with her. That'd be fun, I hope the tickets aren't too expensive! 

We passed the Atelier Boz shop, and noticed they had Lucky Bags for sale, for a great price. I was so tempted to pick one up. The friendly shop tenant chatted with us about the new Evanescence album, then filled us in about the lucky packs. 

I told her I couldn't buy one that day, but she said that was okay, because they were on sale until the end of October, when they would host a three-day Halloween event...

And everyone who came to this little party would receive a free gift. 

So of course, my friend and I decided we have to come! But what to wear to a Lolita Halloween event? Especially for Boz, which is so clean-cut and lovely?

I think I'll attend as a Lolita witch. It's a Halloween classic, and this old school Meta set is just right. 

The Meta Jsk and Cape set was cheap at Violet Blue. It has long tiers, buttons up the back, corsets in the front, and has cross embroidered lace. 

The petti underneath is a treasure from Black Peace Now. I'd like to hitch up the front of my Jsk a bit so you can see the lovely layering.

I've been smitten with the long aristocratic look lately. The local Lolitas and Kodonas I've seen wear just as much Aristocrat as they do Sweet Lolita. 

Yesterday on the escalator out of Nova, I saw two girls in Moitie with a kodona. They were beautiful in cobalt blue and monochrome! Seeing it worn in action like this really turned me on to aristocrat; it seems so flattering on everyone.

Maybe I will end up getting a lucky pack one day, they're such a good deal, and usually have great starter pieces.

I can hardly wait to get all dressed up for the party now...

Return to Naoto

After a rigorous morning of grammar and compositions, I went to Ohsu for exercise, fresh air and a coat. It's been getting nippy out here in the mornings, but as soon as the sun gets up, the temperature picks right back up to Nagoya sunburn levels.

That being said, by the time I made my way from Sakae Station to Ohsu in a sundress, bag lady sunglasses from the 300 yen shop and my hair in a ponytail, I was not up to looking for toaster oven wool coats.

Instead, I took advantage of the fact it was an off-day for shopping, and took my time looking through the racks at Violet Blue. Since the store is narrow and busy, I usually skip over the cut sews and skirts and go for the bulk, Jsks and OPs. That was a mistake apparently, because I found treasure somewhere in that sea of knit jersey.

Cutsew/Cardigan: Six.h. 
Skirt: h.Naoto BLOOD.
Choker: h.Jelly.

I've always had a soft spot for h.Naoto; it was my original favorite brand, for many reasons. First of all, ever since my teenage self read an interview with Hirooka Naoto in the Tokyo Look Book, I wanted to grow up to be just like him. Second of all, my first-ever 'offline' lolita friend wore a lot of h.Naoto, so she introduced me to its beauty and complexity in person. 

But as far as buying it... it was always hard to get a hold of in the states, considering the US flagship store just opened this month. Since the items tend to run smaller and shorter, it was hard to place confidence in an online purchase, so I tended to avoid it, despite my love for the designs. 

It was so helpful to actually hold the pieces today, and find one that was the right cut for my body type.

The architecture of S-inc pieces is striking. The draping on the front of the cardigan is interesting, and works with the silver butterfly print. The front of the cardigan is designed to drape in an inverted V shape, and there's also drawstring ruching in the back. 

The drama shows in the skirt too. It's perfectly tailored to fit my hips and waist, then flares out into gathered tiers for a mermaid tail shape. 

The h.jelly choker is something I've had in my jewelry box for a long time. One of my close friends and I split this h.Jelly set almost two years ago! I have the choker, and she has the matching bracelet. Hopefully some day we'll meet up and wear it together. 

I love this outfit though! I'd wear it to school, a rock live, or maybe even on Halloween with some black angel wings. (Long live the tacky!)

Today's lolita meme is going to be fun! It is Day Seventeen, a picture of your favorite lolita style.

Here's the thing... I know what I like most, but it's not necessarily a 'style'! It's more of an aesthetic, a feeling I get when I see just the right combination of colors, patterns, clothes and accessories. 

My favorite, most iconic styles are sort of old school, sort of classic, sort of gothic, sort of sweet... 

If anything, they're Darkly Darling. 

I hope you liked some of my favorite street snaps, as much as I did when I first saw them! I think it just goes to show that the greatest outfits aren't necessarily hand-picked to be printed in magazines, but walking around on the sidewalks, a story living in them every day.

Rocking on the Sonset Strip

I was waiting for this weekend all week long... because Saturday held the promise of a trip to Ohsu, and I was invited to a punk rock concert in Sakae after. One of my friends knew one of the vocalists, and got us a great price on tickets.

So we started the day at Ohsu Kanon Temple, a spot hidden behind the sprawling shopping arcades and alleys. It's surprisingly quiet there, as if the whole thing is in a sound proof bubble.

From the court yard in front of the temple, you can see a building tattooed with graffiti the same brilliant red as Ohsu Kanon. It's a strange but fitting fusion of the old and the new; the past and the future, as you stand between them in the present.

Around the corner is a cafe selling dango for 80 yen. I grabbed a serving dusted in matcha powder, and sat with my friends on the fountain, enjoying the view and people watching. The sun started to set soon, so we headed back in the Sakae direction to head to the venue.

The venue was an underground live house called the Sonset Strip. The hall was small, so when the bands played music positively saturated the air. It was so loud, everything actually sounded muffled. The vocalists were screaming out notes to throw their voices over the instruments, unsuccessfully, but the energy in that room was explosive. 

I think four or five bands played, all with their own different style and sound, from punk rockers with Ramones style hair...

To my personal favorite, good old visual kei.

We were invited to the after party, so missed the last train home. We took a cab back from Sakae, a college students worst nightmare... but split between five people, the cost wasn't bad at all. 

When I got home the next morning, a package had come for me in the mail. Inside, was proof that my mom reads my blog. 

She sent me Halloween towels for my bathroom...

... and a card with Blue Morpho butterflies on it. 

How to Halloween

October is my favorite month of the year- ideal weather, the gradation of scenery into deeper hues, Halloween tack in abundance.

Some families claim the right to hosting Christmas parties, or Thanksgiving Dinner, but in our household, we own the Halloween Party.

My father is a self-proclaimed Pumpkin Master, and never ceases to impress with hand-drawn stencils and things you never thought you could do with a gourd. My mom has hand-made costumes for the whole family since I was born.

Or as my Dad has said in less words, "We're Halloweiners!"

This is the first year I've been away from my family on my favorite holiday. I wasn't expecting much Halloween festivity here in Japan, but much to my pleasant surprise, I'm being proved wrong.

The hyaku en stores are stuffed with capes, witches hats and home decor; the lolita shops in the Nova building have decorated for the occasion. I pass by restaurants on the street and see orange pumpkins on the registers, or along side the plastic display food.

In Apita, the local department store, a frightening favorite rattles on in the background.

And down stairs, a display that will make any little girl scream (with delight).

Even the karaoke place is getting in the spirit. At Shidax, they have Halloween themed dishes, including Pumpkin Pasta (with kabocha, what you can call Japanese pumpkin.)

I wasted no time getting my ghoul on. As soon as October first came around...

To top it all off, San-X celebrity Rilakkuma and his posse have teamed up with Lawson conbini marts this month, with a slew of adorable bear goods. The other night I ran in to pay my electric bill, and couldn't resist this "Strawberry Yogurt Dessert".

It was more like creamy strawberry jello with strawberry puree at the bottom. I just wanted the mug anyway, so I am satisfied.

Till next time,

Welcoming Autumn

Sunday, I had plans to meet up with two other lolitas is Ohsu, who I 'met' through Livejournal. Plans fell through with one of them due to a school event, so we ended up having to cancel.

At the last minute, the other girl sent me a message asking if I'd rather go to an Autumn Festival with lantern lighting in Tsushima. We decided to go casual, since festivals can be messy, and we didn't want to stick out any more than we all ready did.

So Sunday afternoon, I boarded the Higashiyama line to Nagoya Station, then made a transfer to the Meitetsu line.

That's where I met up with C-san, and we took the train to Tsushima together. Her phone had access to train time tables, but we still got lost for a little while. It was easy to back track and board the right train though.

Stepping out of the station into Tsushima, I was fairly surprised. I was expecting crowded streets, lots of vendors with festival food, and decorations. The sky was overcast, which diluted the colors of booths in the distance. 

We continued down the street towards the shrine. A kid sprinting by almost fell on his face when he did a double-take at us. Down the street, we could see something looming, as the sound of drums and flutes got closer. When we were upon it, there was so much for our eyes to take in...

These 'floats', all 300-500 years old, were being pushed down the streets by men in happi coats and festival gear. Children, young women playing flutes, and men beating taiko drums were all riding on the bottom. On top, there was a mechanical doll display, each one telling (I assume) a different story, cultural scene, or parody.

The drum beat bubbled up from under your feet, like you were on the pulse of life in this town. Women had their hair done in high, curled updos, false nails and eyelashes attached. Even though the men grimaced hauling the weight of the floats, they grinned at the same time.

One thing they did with the floats was wind them around in tight circles, which left huge etchings in the street. I'm not sure what the reference was, but to me it is like the world going around, seasons changing, and good luck for new beginnings. 

The floats progressed all the way to the shrine, where everyone in the town was waiting.

One by one, the floats passed through the red arch and approached the waiting masses. An announcer introduced the float and described the story being played out by the dolls. Then the built-in band would start up, the story would play through once, and the float was carried away to 'park' along side the shrine.

My favorite performance had a doll practicing her calligraphy, and at the end of the song, ink actually flowed from her brush.

It was the kanji for 'treasure'. Apparently something was set up wrong and she was painting on the wrong side, so here we see a 'tech' correcting the problem. 

After the performances, we set off in search of food. I was hoping for taiyaki or mochi, with no such luck. Popular snacks included yakisoba, chicken kara-age and candied apples.

Finally I found a window selling dango. I joined the long line, change in hand, as I watched the woman work behind the window. 

She rolled the dumplings by hand and skewered them, then cooked them over an open wood-burning fire. As they cooked, she dunked them into a rustic looking clay pot filled with shoyu sauce. After they were coated she threw them back on the fire, cooked them a little longer, and repeated. Her husband took the money and wrapped the hot, fresh dumplings in paper. 

They were the best dango I've ever had. Normally I get them from the super market or the sushi place, and they can be gluey. These were actually soft and still had the texture of rice. My friend said they reminded her of mochi she had in Kyoto, which still had chunks of rice in it. 

At dusk, we headed back to the shrine to see the lantern lighting. These lanterns were lit with candles, not electric lights. Each float had a different design on their paper lanterns. 

After the lanterns were lit, the floats were hauled back to the street for a round about the town. It happened to be right en route to the station, so we followed them out, joining the river of people holding lanterns.

What made this amazing to me, was that the town was so small. Literally everyone who lived there took part of the festival in some way or another. 

Also, each float was so old! In the US, something that old would be video taped in action, and instead of using it future generations would just watch a recording. The actual heirloom would probably sit locked up in preservation somewhere. 

Here, tradition called them into action, but they maintained the condition too. Even though these were living pieces of history, everything was clean, vibrant, and working. The people were close and intimate with tradition; not distant from their history. 

All in all, I am so glad that other girl dropped out on Lolita day. I would rather see things like this any day.