It was when I found myself clamped between two pairs of taut buttocks that it occurred to me this evening could have benefitted from more planning.
Summer in Japan means fireworks. Not the type that might be associated with firm rear-ends but the kind that fly into the sky and explode in a flurry of pretty colour that nevertheless reminds you of a nuclear fallout.
The first city display for Sapporo was this evening, lasting for 50 minutes after the explode-off at 7:40 pm. Feeling this would be one of the more understandable cultural events in my adopted country, I had arranged to meet a friend at the subway stop at 7:15 to travel down to the riverbank where the display was being held.
Initially, I had concerns about finding the correct location, but these were eradicated the second we stepped onto the subway car. Japanese traditional dress is rarely worn day-to-day, but it is customary at certain events: weddings, coming-of-age ceremonies and --for some strange reason-- firework displays.
... I retract the comment about this being an understandable event.
Standing around us between the usual rabble of jeans and skirts, were men and women dressed in yukatas. A yukata strongly resembles the kimono, except it is a single-layer summer garment that is typically made of cotton. The difference in gender styles is revealed mainly in the pattern (the men's yukata detailing darker colours with geometric designs) and also in the belt or 'obi' that holds the garment in place. The women's obi is a wide affair which covers her whole waist and ties up in one of several complex design choices at the back. The fixing of an obi is sufficiently challenging that many women cheat, having a pre-tied obi in the same way as western men sometimes have fake bow-ties.
Fake-obis or not, these were clearly the people to follow. This proved to be a necessary decision, since the train was so packed by the time we reached the main station that an independent-minded exit was no longer an option.
I was privately congratulating myself on managing this whole event like a pro when we made a mistake.
Following the yukata-clad crowd would certainly take us to the fireworks, but we should have taken a further demographic cut. Our (student-heavy) group took exception to the crowd control restrictions imposed by police officers and scaled the grassy bank to reach the main road. Wearing a skirt that left my calves and ankles bear to the undergrowth, I wasn't really equipped to handle it. However, neither were the be-clogged and dressed people around me and it wasn't stopped them. Since all visible alternatives were currently blocked, there was little to do but follow the masses and make a mental note to hook up with the grannies next time we decided to crowd-source our problems.
Clambering over the barriers finally allowed us to join the legal mayhem, and we watched the fireworks while moving with half of Hokkaido towards the official seating spot. In fact, we never reached the river bank, stopping instead on the side of the tarmac road.
As part of the massive people jam on the way out, we did note a car park had been set up under the bridge a little way down from the firework site. It was filled with camper-vans which begs the question whether the only way to comfortably see a Japan firework display is to arrive a week in advance.
Despite this, the fireworks were genuinely pretty, as was the sea of decorative yukatas. The show was short, however, compared to the time needed to get in and out. As we inched back through the streets, people pealed off to escape the press. Coffee houses and restaurants were full, the convenience store had unhooked its windows entirely to make outdoor counters and even the Love Hotel had a line.
The last was perhaps understandable in view of the fact I was in very little doubt about what my closely situated neighbours had to offer in such departments, and no time more so as when we finally reached the subway stop.
The first train was too full even to board. The second train was packed but we made it on in a capacity that had a tin of sardines looking like the penthouse suit.
As I tried to clasp my hands in such a manner that molested only myself, I reflected that this put a whole new meaning on the term 'cultural integration'.