I heard some familiar voices in the next room, but I was slow to awake from my oblivion. I was in a hotel and I felt absolutely terrible. Gradually I came to realize it was Sunday June 12th, and I was in Sapporo for the Yosakoi Sōran Festival. My stomach was in genuine agony, cursing me for the abuse I put him through the night before. There was a knock at the door and I shot off the bed like a frightened rabbit. Makoto-san’s smiling face was on the other side of the door, ready to go downstairs for breakfast. Quickly I threw on my jeans and t-shirt, hastily half-brushed my teeth, and was outside in no time.
We took the elevator down to the basement level, where there was quite a nice breakfast spread for us to help ourselves to, buffet-style. I was far from hungry however and actually felt rather sick to my stomach. I picked out a few sparse items and sat down at the table with next to nothing. Yamazaki, Yasuda, and Makoto gave me identical disbelieving looks, as though they never imagined that my appetite had an end. I explained that I was very, very hungover (二日酔い), although I think that my overeating had as much to do with my condition as the overdrinking. After breakfast, we returned to our rooms to shower up, pack our bags, and check out.
Sunday’s agenda started much like Saturday’s, with our first dancing being done at Sapporo Factory. Coming from the hotel, we made it to the meeting place well in advance of the bus from Shakotan, and Makoto-san and I passed the time by checking out a map of Sapporo Factory. Makoto-san pointed out specific points of interest for me, while I pointed out English spelling errors on the sign for him. It was good fun. When the rest of the crew arrived, we got organized, and performed. As luck would have it, we were actually the first group of the day to dance there.
After Sapporo Factory, we were headed to Odori Park again, but this time we simply walked the whole way. The weather was cool and overcast, just the way I like it. It was quite an amusing sight to see our whole group walking down the street in costume. Some of the younger boys followed me the whole time, making funny voices that I would then replicate to their amusement. Once at Odori, it was time do another round of parade dancing. Luckily, my hangover had abated enough that I wasn’t miserable.
We were in the street, getting in formation for our parading, when I was surprised by a scream of my name and a ninja hug. At first I was just shocked that someone was hugging me, but then I realized it was Nozomi-san, a representative with my company who had personally done a lot to help me since I had come to Sapporo. From her greeting, it was clear that she was excited to see me, and she pointed out her sister and daughter on the sidewalk, who had also come to cheer me on. (Even though it’s Nozomi’s job to help out ALT’s like myself, she always goes the extra mile and I consider her to be a true friend.)
Doing the parade version of our dance was even more fun this time, with familiar voices cheering for me personally. They actually made their way down the street with us, and by the time we reached the end, they were right there, still offering their support. What great friends! After the parading, we had time for lunch, and Makoto-san and I went with the Yamazaki family to find something in Tanuki Kōji.
Tanuki Kōji is a shopping arcade just a few blocks south of Odori. It’s like an outdoor shopping mall, with an arched roof above that must be a godsend in wintertime. We ate at a little hamburger steak joint called simply “10”. In Japanese, your typical hamburger on a bun is pronounced “hah-m-bah-gah” (ハンバーガー), while hamburger steak is called “hah-m-bahg” (ハンバーグ). I had never had Japanese-style Hamburg steak before and I was quite impressed. You get a steaming skillet plate on which you have your hamburger steak, a fried egg, and a cup of crazy-delicious dipping sauce. There’s also the option to get a bowl of rice on the side, which we all did. If you visit Japan, I highly recommend the ハンバーグ.
Around 4:00 we had our big performance on the main stage in Odori Park. The organizers had a pretty good rotation running smoothly on schedule, with each team dancing on the stage in what appeared to be ten-minute intervals. For each stage-version performance on the second day, I had been placed in the back row, which due to my hangover and general fatigue was actually quite convenient. Our performance on the main stage went off without a hitch and the crowd cheered for us like you’d expect. It was kind of magical being up there with the crowd and the lights and the cameras; a unique experience. We exited stage-left, and there right at the exit, was Nozomi-san and her sister to congratulate me one last time.
The Shakotan- Kōchi team had our photograph taken by official festival staff, and then we headed north to our bus. Leaving Odori Park, our tiniest dancer, an adorable, little three year old girl wanted to hold my hand. Eventually I was carrying her for most of our walk, during which time I probably looked quite domestic. When we reached the Old Hokkaido Government Building we stopped for speeches and photos.
The Old Hokkaido Government Building is a historical site and tourist attraction for Sapporo. While pretty much all old Japanese buildings are made of wood, this building stands out, being constructed out of red bricks. In fact, some people refer to it as “Akarenga” (赤煉瓦 – あかれんが ), which means “red brick”. Constructed during the Meiji Restoration, when Japan was in the midst of modernizing to catch up with the western powers, the Old Government Building features clearly western-style architecture that feels historic, but not Japanese, so comes off as a little otherworldly.
The Shakotan officials appeared and the dancers gathered round. Someone produced a megaphone and the Mayor of Shakotan addressed us. Everything was said in Japanese, of course, so I only understood the ‘thank you’ bits. After the Mayor spoke, Ihara-san from the Board of Education said a few words. Then Yasuda-san got the megaphone and gave more thanks. Then, in a surprise move, Yasuda-san asked me to come up and give the final speech. Since this was actually rather impossible, when he handed me the mic, Yasuda-san actually told me exactly what to say. It was only a single phrase, “おつかれさまでした (O-tsukare-sama-deshita)” which means something like, “Thank you for your work today.”
We took a group photo, and people actually took a lot of other photos as the group broke up. Then we said our goodbyes to our Kōchi friends and boarded our bus bound for Shakotan. For the ride home, I was given a bento box and juice-box full of delicious green tea.
Back in Shakotan, Makoto-san, the Yamazaki family, and the Yasuda family were headed to Yamatomi for some dinner. (Was I the only person that ate my bento on the bus?) Even though I wasn’t hungry, and was actually dead tired, I didn’t want particularly want to return to my desolate apartment right away, so I joined them. In conversation, I mentioned my interest to learn Japanese cooking and Yasuda-san’s wife said that I should come over to their house sometime. I didn’t realize at the time that she was quite serious.