My sister adores classic Disney even more than I do, which propelled the Tokyo theme parks to the top of our sightseeing wishlist. Expecting massive crowds for the national holidays later in the week, we arranged tickets for Monday and Tuesday — including a stay at the exquisite, art nouveau style Disneyland Hotel.
As I enthused extensively about DisneySea last year, I’ll recap only briefly before focusing on our maiden voyage to DisneyLand: a vintage park celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The first morning of our adventure, we rose early to savor a surprisingly gourmet buffet — never before has a breakfast menu offered me sashimi! We splurged on a taxi to the park, where the staff conducted us through the well-oiled machinery of depositing luggage and purchasing passes.
Emerging at last into the Renaissance harbor that so beguiled me, my sister and I plunged into the park’s kaleidoscope of imagined worlds.
For the first time in three years, our southernmost town Isen-cho celebrated a summer festival. (When you live on a semi-tropical island, November is the perfect season for summer festivals.) As Isen is the smallest of Tokunoshima’s three towns, we weren’t expecting much.
Instead, people turned out in force for an extravaganza. Lines for cotton candy and chicken skewers rapidly outstripped the foodstalls’ supplies, leaving ample opportunity to admire the ladies attired in yukata (summer kimonos). After marveling at this scene in countless animes, now I found myself living it.
Silhouetted against the ocean, the stage boasted a parade of traditional and contemporary music from drummer martial artists to a hip hop trio from Osaka. One of my fellow JET teachers performed with a group on the shamisen, a stringed instrument traditionally bound in snakeskin. The night ended with a bang: lasers painted fantastical landscapes across windswept smoke, a mesmerizing prelude to the fireworks concert. Synchronized bursts of color and sound drew shouts of delight from the crowd.
As we regretfully gathered ourselves to go, everyone agreed: Isen wins first place in festivals.
Former JET participants had alerted me to anticipate sports day at my school, but the school culture festival caught me off guard. On Saturday the entire student body took over the town performing arts theater to showcase their musical talents, art projects, comedy routines, body-building, and other shenanigans.
Some elements struck me as quintessentially Japanese, both classically (the calligraphy and martial arts demos) and modernistically (the pop idol routine and horror movie spoof). Besides a chance to relish my students’ inventiveness, the all-day weekend event also granted me an unexpected holiday: Most teachers would take off the Monday of that same weekend, but I was due to ferry to Yoron that morning — so I extended my stay on the little island instead.