Experiencing our first real winter in several years has us wishing for some warmer temperatures.  That is until I was looking at some of our pictures from this past summer.  One of our most unique experiences thus far in Japan came in the middle of the most humid, sticky, hot, miserable summer I can remember.  Angela had seen or heard of a festival in a nearby town involving Lanterns.  We had barely been in the country and decided to check it out.  We were still living on base and were dripping with sweat well before we had reached the train station and were wondering if the trip was worth it.  After a relatively scenic ride west, we arrived at the town of Odawara in the foothills near Hakone Mountain (a traditional resort mountain offering stunning views of Mt. Fuji).  We enjoyed being out in a more spaced out town and followed the crowds to the reconstructed castle.  Odawara Castle has a long and distinguished history, involving rival Shogun sieges and being noteworthy as among the very last targets bombed by the United States in World War Two.  The Castle had been rebuilt following the great 1923 Kanto Earthquake and now houses rebuilt outbuildings, gardens, and a moat.  The lantern festival was held in the castle garden.  We learned the lanterns were special for being developed in Odawara centuries ago and look like fold up paper.  The local elementary schools have come to decorate hundreds of lanterns which are lit up at night along the castle moat making for great photos.  The most common theme amongst the lanterns were Disney characters, particularly Stitch (side note: the Japanese are obsessed with Hawaii).  While it was still stifling hot we paid to take a tour of the castle as the festivities were to begin near sundown.  With our admission ticket we also got to walk through a museum about the castle, but it was lost on us as our ability to read Japanese is non-existent.  After a hot walk up through a wooden castle filled with Samurai outfits, we reached the Castle Keep offering a vista of Sagami Bay, though the bay breezes still did not cool us down.  We descended into the festival and were met with a truly cultural experience.  The food vendors offered “seasage” dogs (likely some sort of fish), kimchi (which we tried and didn’t care for) but most abundantly, food on sticks.  Angela braved a squid on a stick, and found the taste quite good but too chewy.  We were hot and looked for shaved ice, but saw beer, and ordered a Sapporo on draft, receiving of course whiskey with a shot of beer. Of Course… The Japanese come to party!  The actual festival recounted events we, as the only gaijin in attendance, had no clue, but we enjoyed dances and theater in kimonos as we tried to stay cool.  After dark, a long parade formed and marched to different dance songs out of the castle into the town, and we enjoyed a nice stroll along an ancient moat lit by lanterns decorated with Disney characters.  We arrived back at home exhausted, sweaty, and hot, but realized that we were going to get the most out of living in Japan!

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