Posted by Heliocentrism on November 13, 2016
Sunday. October 23, 2016
One day Mark and I were lazing around the house watching old videos of Community Channel on Youtube (because someone hadn’t uploaded any new videos in weeks), when we saw a Facebook post of a friend in town. “Enjoying all this festival food at Miyoshi Park,” said the caption under a photo of our friend biting into some meat on a stick.
“There’s a festival in town? Why didn’t anyone tell us about it?”
In about 10 minutes we were showered and dressed and heading out the door. From our apartment it’s a 15-minute drive to Miyoshi Park. At the park entrance there was a long line of cars waiting to be ushered into a parking space.
We parked our car and headed to the community center in the middle of Miyoshi Park. We hadn’t even stepped out of the crosswalk linking the parking lot and the walkway to the main building when we were approached by someone with brochures.
Mark managed to sneak away from the solicitation leaving me on my own to turn down whatever was being offered. I put up my hands and started waving them to say, “No, thanks.” Then another lady spoke up.
“Words in Japanese Mazda test track and back to Japanese again.”
Surprised, I asked in Japanese, “Right now?”
“Schedule,” the lady told me, pointing to a list of times. Speaking in Japanese, she said, “The bus leaves from here.”
“How much?” In Japanese I usually use one or two-word sentences.
“It’s free,” she replied with a smile. Then she pointed to the path to the community center and said something. But I couldn’t understand anything more than “Go over there…”
I smiled and thanked the lady for the information. Then I ran to catch up with Mark.
“What do you think this festival is all about?” Mark asked me. Nearing the community center, I could see many flags. There was some sort of caricature of a sea captain on them, which is odd because Miyoshi is a land-locked town. There was some Hiragana writing which said “Miyoshi,” the name of our town, some Katakana which said, “Festival,” and some Kanji which probably explained the purpose of the festival. But my ability to read Kanji is very limited.
Behind the community center was an unpaved lot. There were many emergency workers in the center of the lot. There was a tent of soldiers showing off their Hummers and rescue equipment. There was a tent filled with smoke demonstrating how hard it is to see in a house that is on fire. firefighters were standing at the entrance of the tent beckoning to passersby to go through. This was clearly some sort of safety festival… perhaps.
There was a truck with a room set up inside it. The room had only 3 walls, so that festival goers could witness the spectacle. One family was asked to go in and sit around the table to a pretend dinner. As they talked and pretended to eat, someone flipped a switch to start the simulated earthquake. The family had to show what they would do in an earthquake.
Nearby there was a crane manned by the coast guard attached to a stretcher. The crane lifted the stretcher off the ground simulating a helicopter rescue. There was a little boy strapped into the stretcher with a big grin on his face. He was having the time of his life. There was a long line of other little boys and girls waiting for their turn to be “rescued”.
There were cops barefooted and walking on a tarp laid out on the ground. There were several lines of kids. The police officers where showing them how to get away from someone holding on to them.
Then, seemingly out of place, were a bunch of Mazdas. Most of the police cars, Hummers, and firetrucks had kids climbing in them and their parents taking photos. “Can we get into a Mazda?” we jokingly wondered.
A man walked towards us and asked us something in Japanese. All I could understand was, “What time?” “Testing track?” I asked the man.
“Hai. So desu.”
“14:00,” I told him.
He handed both Mark and me tickets that said 14:00 on them. Then he said some other stuff, but all I understood was, “Go over there.” But, this time I knew exactly what he meant. We would “go over there” near where we parked by 14:00.
There were people selling homemade crafts on the parameter of the unpaved lot. We walked over to them looking at stuff no one wanted to buy. It was hard to pay any attention to the craft tents because opposite them, in the middle of the lot were the rescue workers. Alarms were going off, kids were laughing, and demonstrations were given. The crafts tents just could not compete with all that. They should have asked to be placed next to a room of old ladies knitting.
We ran into my Japanese teacher. It’s been sometime since I took lessons, but we still hangout every once in a while. She greeted me very cheerfully. She was with a group of friends and couldn’t talk long. She pushed a pair of tickets in my hand.
“Tea ceremony tickets. It’s held inside the main building on the second floor.”
“Enjoy,” she said as she and her friends headed to the Hummers.
Mark took the tickets and inspected them. They cost about 350 Yen each. “She just gives you tickets?” he asked.
“She’s always giving me stuff. It’s like I have 100 birthdays.”
We looked at the time. It was 13:30. “The tea ceremony booth closes at 16:00. We better do this before we do the Mazda thing,” Mark said. Half an hour seemed like a good amount of time to do an informal tea ceremony at a festival and make it to the bus in time for 14:00.
We walked to the main building by way of passing the food stalls on the side of the building. We were not hungry; we were just looking. Then from out of one of the stalls popped a man who grabbed Mark by the arm.
“Hello my friend!”
Mark was caught off guard. People in Japan don’t just walk up to Mark and start speaking in English, so I figured that the man knew Mark. But, Mark seemed to be side stepping any formal introductions.
“He doesn’t remember who this man is,” I thought. “How is camping?” the man asked Mark. “Oh yes. Camping is fun,” Mark replied.
“This is yakisoba. You try.”
Mark felt bad enough about not remembering who the man was or where they met that he bought the yakisoba. Mark sat down at a bench ready to dive into his food. “He must be a teacher at one of my schools from last year or the year before that. But, if he’s a teacher, why is he peddling yakisoba?”
“Less talking and more eating,” I demanded. I wanted to get to the tea ceremony before we left.
A few minutes later we made it to the main building. There was more festival going on in there. Though, the theme inside was not safety like it was outside. The theme inside was commerce.
“Well, now I have no idea what this festival is about,” I said as I scratched my head. There were many booths set up in a grid inside the auditorium. On the parameter, people sold baked goods and treats. All of the interior booths had someone showing off some products for sale. It felt like walking into 1,000 infomercials.
We walked past a man hawking ShamWows and turned at a booth selling green smoothies that looked like swamp water. We walked by two competing cell phone companies that were trying to attract new customers by giving out those awful hard candies that only old people like.
I guess if you made the mistake of trying a sample of swamp water smoothies you would gladly take the offer of free candy. After clearly showing your lack of good judgement, you would be preyed upon by the cell phone people and end up going home with a phone plan you didn’t need or want.
We ran up the stairs and looked at the time. It was 13:45. Mark whispered to me, “You think they could do a 10 minute quick ceremony for us?” “No,” I looked at Mark appalled. “Tea ceremony is about the exact opposite of that. Everything is done slowly.”
We thought back to the last tea ceremony we did. A bunch of ALTs from Miyoshi were invited to a lovely house to be served tea by a tea ceremony tea master. It took at least an hour.
“Well,” Mark reasoned, “This is a festival. This can’t be meant to last for hours. We’ll stay for as long as we can.” Then he whispered, “We’ll stay for 8 minutes then slip out like we would from church.”
I handed our tickets to a lady in a fancy kimono. She bowed and showed us to a padded bench. I was grateful to not have to sit on my heels, a position I can only hold for a few seconds.
We were given beautiful sweets that, as usual, tasted too sweet. Then we were served thick green tea from tea cups that looked like small bowls. As we drank we watched a man teach his student how to serve tea. She was practicing opening the lid of the tea container over and over again.
I sipped my tea and watched the lesson. I leaned over to Mark, “She’ll never get around to making tea at this rate.” “Less talking, more drinking,” Mark responded. I looked at Mark’s bowl. It was empty.
“Did you drink all of this in one gulp?”
“I don’t mess around!”
I sipped at my tea as fast as I could. It was still very hot. Mark looked at the time and fidgeted impatiently. Another kimonoed lady came by with a tray to take our cups. I quickly finished my drink and placed my cup on the tray next to Mark’s.
Then we sat there awkwardly wanting to go, but not sure how to do that without being completely rude. After a few minutes a family was ushered to the bench next to ours. As the ladies fussed over them getting them sweets and tea, there was a perfect moment when both the student and the teacher were looking down and the two ladies had their backs to us. We seized the moment and quietly slipped away like ghosts.
We ran down the path to the bus. We were the last people to get on, but we were in time. The bus sat there for about 5 minutes before firing up the engine and setting off for the Mazda Proving Grounds.
Shortly after moving to Miyoshi we found out that there was a test track in town where Mazda puts their cars through their paces. Whenever I drive past the Mazda gate, I try to peek in. There are guards at all the gates with very high walls and it’s fenced all around. Until this day, I was not entirely sure how big the Mazda Proving Ground was.
At the front of the bus a lady in a suit gave the passengers information about the testing facilities. It was all in Japanese, so I couldn’t understand most of it. Then a man sitting in the row in front of mine turned around and asked in English if I understood what she said. “She said she can’t paint a picture… I think,” I answered the man. That didn’t really make any sense to me.
He smiled and corrected me. “She said you can’t take photos during the tour. But, when they stop the bus you can take photos if you like.”
“If you want, I can translate for you when you don’t know what she says.”
“Yes, please,” I told him. Then throughout the tour he would turn around and whisper the important and interesting facts the lady told everyone.
We drove over many of the test tracks. There were roads that simulated various real world driving conditions. There were roads with potholes, roads with bumps, roads made of dirt. They had roads made with cement and ones made with tar.
We made a turn and everyone wooed and awed. “The bus driver doesn’t turn here. This is an American turn. The road tilts so the bus driver can go straight. The road turns the bus,” Our new friend told us. I learned quickly that Japanese roads lacked this feature. Exiting from a Japanese freeway requires sudden deceleration to avoid everything in the car pitching to one side. The road does not bank enough to give a driver time to slow down without sickening amounts of inertia. It’s a rather disturbing experience for the uninitiated.
We drove on several types of American-styled paved roads. When the bus drove over the segmented cement road, everyone laughed at the clicking clacking sound the bus made. Then we tried a French road along with a German one.
Then we drove on a Belgian road. The guide said that unlike the American, French, and German roads that were made here in Japan using the same methods as in those countries, the Belgian roads were made in Belgium. In fact there were actually Belgian roads that honest-to-god Belgians drove on. Mazda ripped it up piece by piece, numbering each section as they went. Then shipped it to Japan and reassembled it at the testing facility. It was very expensive.
The Belgians roads were not smooth at all. Honestly, I could feel no discernible difference between the German, French, and American black top roads. (The America cement road clearly caused the clicking-clacking sound.) The Belgium road felt like a bad massage. It was a terrible road.
We drove passed a track with a very steep bank. A car would have to go very fast on a turn to stay on that track. Then the lady announced that the bus driver wanted to try it out… with this bus. I was wary.
I didn’t know this bus driver. I didn’t know how skilled of a driver he was. I buckled my seat belt and hoped he knew what he was doing. The driver accelerated the bus in the furthest left lane. It was a big bus filled with lots of people so it took some time to build up speed. This did not instill my confidence in the plan.
Eventually we got up to a speed fast enough that the driver could switch to a middle lane and then the most right lane with the almost vertical bank. We were flying around the corner. It was disconcerting looking out the windows and seeing sky on one side and black top on the other, all while still being in a big ungainly bus that would normally never go over 80 kph.
I did want to try out this test track and this steep bank in particular. I just wanted to do it in a sports car, something small or sleek. A cool muscle car maybe? Not a bus.
The bus stopped at another curve. We were all let out to inspect the steep bank ourselves. Many people tried to cross the road. Once you passed the second lane, the crossing became exponentially difficult. Once on the other side, people had to hold onto the guard rails to stay up there.
Everyone took as many photos as they could before getting back on the bus. We were then taken to more tracks that simulated various driving conditions. We drove past the crash testing area and a parking lot for new cars waiting to be tested. There were either no prototype cars for us to see or they were kept in doors in the aerodynamics lab building.
The proving ground was a lot bigger than I thought it was. The whole tour took roughly two hours from pick up to drop off. There were more roads, lots, lakes, and buildings than I thought were behind any of those gates.
I still have no idea what the overall theme of the festival was, but I enjoyed it.
How to get there:
You can enter Japan by plane or boat. Though, the number of boats going to Japan from other countries has gone down significantly.
Americans get 90-day visas to Japan at the port of entry. Check with your nearest Japanese embassy or consulate for visa information.
- Emergency Numbers:
- Police 110
- Ambulance and Fire 119
- Important phone numbers to know while in Japan
- Comfort Woman
- The Commoner
- Empire of the Sun
- Flyboys: A True Story of Courage
- Geisha, a Life
- Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II’s Most Dramatic Mission
- The Last Concubine
- Memoirs of a Geisha
- Tears in the Darkness: The Story of the Bataan Death March and Its Aftermath
- Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan
- What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
- Be careful what over the counter drugs you bring into Japan. Actifed, Sudafed, Vicks inhalers, and Codeine are prohibited.
- International ATMs are really hard to find; more so if you aren’t in a big city. Many places in Japan do not use credit cards. Take cash and call your bank to ask what ATMs or banks in Japan will work with your cash card.
- ATMs have opening hours. Usually 9:00-18:00 (They have better work hours than most business men and women here.)
- The Post Office bank seems to work with the most international cards.
- You can get a Japan Railway, pass which saves you a lot of money on the trains, but you can only buy it before you get to Japan and you cannot be a resident of Japan. (I don’t have more information about it because I’ve only ever lived in Japan; I’ve never been a tourist here.)
Miyoshi Mazda Proving Ground
(Matsuda Miyoshi Shikenjō)
- Coordinates 34°47’49.4″N 132°51’56.0″E
- 551 Higashisakeyamachi, Miyoshi, Hiroshima Prefecture 728-0023
- Unless you get a job here or you’re on a tour, there is no entering the facilities.