One of my favorite things I got to do while I was in Japan was to participate in the Balloon festival in Daisen City. My friend had introduced me to this travel website called Concierge Akita. It’s a great travel site with a mission of introducing the lesser known gem that is Akita, Japan to the rest of the world. They often recruit international students from our school to test out travel packages and to be featured in their articles, so we signed ourselves up for this particular activity.
It took us about an hour to reach the little community center where we went to work on the paper balloons. The man in charge excitedly brought us in front of two large squares sheets of paper, handed us some paint markers, and told us to draw whatever we wanted. I appreciated the wealth of creative freedom, but we really had no clue what we were supposed to be doing.
After much silent staring, with the help of a translator, one of the locals suggested we use some firework templates to get some ideas. They showed us some balloons that were almost finished that featured some more traditional depictions of ‘Akita Beauties.’
With that in mind, we discussed our options and chose to draw our school mascot (One-chan, a green Akita dog) and his sister on one balloon while finishing the firework design we had started on one of the two balloons.
While they may just seem like plugs for one’s business or school, they actually hold a lot of meaning. They carry people’s wishes, ranging from “good health” to a “plentiful harvest.” We didn’t get to see them in action for a few weeks.
About a month later, we got a call back from the company and headed to the festival in Senboku. Unfortunately, it was raining that night, so we couldn’t send them up into the sky, but they decided to blow up a few inside the building we were in. There were plenty of food stalls though so I was okay with it.
Just outside of the building in a big, grassy space were two wooden posts, adorned with straw. At the end of the night, there was a brief moment where the rain lifted and we got to see some pretty great fireworks.
Once that was done, it was time to set the posts ablaze. Right on cue, the freezing rain started dumping on us again, but the organizers really wanted us to see the fire, so we trudged through the snow that was becoming more and more Slurpee-like in consistency.
It was incredibly hot when you got close, but not hot enough to counteract the rain, so we packed up and headed for the car. The weather may have been disappointing, but as always, the company we kept outweighed the cold. If you focus on the people around you, it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what’s going on, or if things don’t go as planned. Surrounding yourself with the right people will make the ride a good one, no matter where you end up going.