Arriving in Wakayama
When I finally arrived in Wakayama it was still very early in the morning, I think maybe 7.30am, I still felt really tired and mentally drained from the night before.
I set two main tasks for the morning, first was to get some food, the second was find the hotel to see if I could leave my luggage with them till I could check in.
The day starts badly!
First thing I needed to do was find a cash point, food and maybe WiFi so I could check a map. Near the station there was a 7/11 cash machine which was a great place to start, however after entering the booth for the machine I found that my bank card was not in my pocket! Panic set in and after searching through my backpack, suitcase and all pockets it had soon become apparent that I must have lost it in the events of the previous night!
Now the theft part of things didn’t worry me, as being Japan I was fairly confident no one would try to fraud it if they found it. The bigger issue I had is I was now left with just the money in my pocket (about 3000yen and £20) and a credit card which I hardly use and couldn’t remember the pin for! The other problem being that my hotel was booked but not paid for!
I found somewhere to sit down and tried to work things out, I looked at the train station fare to the airport and knew I would need just under 1000 yen in a few days, this would leave me with 2000yen. First port of call was to see if the hotel would let me use my credit card without the pin and sign for it, as if they didn’t then I might as well just go sleep in the airport for 2 days!
Things start to look up
Trying to organise myself and not end up in a panic I found some WiFi at a Lawson store and got a location on my hotel, thankfully it showed only a 5 minute walk from the station, which as it turns out it really was. I got to the hotel and asked at the reception about my credit card situation, they assured me it would be fine and offered to hold onto my bags till I was able to check in later also. Finally I’d caught something going right for me!
The 2000 yen budget would be tough, but I had enough to get to the airport and that was the main thing. Worse case if it had to skip a meal or two one day then it would at least still be possible without dying!
With that in mind I went to find somewhere to wake me up, Tully’s Coffee in the station was open and finally I had a place to sit down, buy a coffee and relax. No longer was I on the streets!
Might as well explore
With basically the whole day to burn till I could go back to the hotel I decided I might as well walk around and explore a little, I was still quiet tired but the coffee and knowledge I could sleep later gave me a boost. In addition I thought I might find a park where I could just lay and rest.
A map showed that Wakayama Castle was nearby so that’s where I headed.
The outside of the castle had a fantastic moat with some boats going about on it, the area was really peaceful and most of the Sakura had started to fall. Figuring there may be a park inside I crossed the bridge and headed in.
Being still very early in the morning there wasn’t many people around, however there was a row of food stalls and vendors lining the edge of the walkway into the park, I was in the mood for some food, but with my limited money in mind after the bank card fiasco I decided to hold off for now.
I moved on through the park viewing the Sakura which had now started to be a mixture of pink and green as a lot of the bloom had fallen. I found a pathway which cut through some huge walls and led up some ancient stone steps, this got me to the top of the castle walls and gave a great view out of the grounds.
The path eventually opened into a clearing in front of the castle itself, there was a small rest area and some vending machines (drink and ice cream), as well as some people in ninja outfits who were offering to take photos for people. I grabbed some cheap refreshments from the vending machines and sat to take in the sight of the castle.
Money at this stage was very tight, but I opted to pay the 500yen entry fee (might have been 400yen) and go into the castle. I figured if it came to it then I would rather skip a meal than miss out on seeing the castle. Moving into the castle I was surprised as it turned out to be a massive museum inside! It was full of weapons, artifacts and historical items, there were literally hundreds of things to see.
The castle was a massive building and after progressing through several floors admiring all of the artifacts, I reached the top. At the top there was a small room with a balcony going round the whole outside of the castle tower, from here there was a spectacular view of all around the city! It was amazing, so far Wakayama was really proving to be an amazing place!
I could see all around the city, the rivers, mountains, the sea, parks and lots more. One thing that caught my eye down below was a gathering of people in one of the clearings, I had been hearing music coming from somewhere and this looked like it was the source of things. There was clearly some sort of event going on that I had to check out.
I took a different path back down around the back of the castle, this led me past the sloping bridge over the moat, a small gardens and tea house. Not wanting to miss whatever was happening I ended up passing these by making a note to check them out later on.
Amazing send off from Wakayama!
After cutting through the castle park I arrived in a small section near where things were happening, there was a massive amount of people, food stalls, a stage and a lot of music.
I wandered into the area and found a space to stand and watch, as I joined a group was just finishing their dance act. A presenter then introduced the next act who came onto the stage and started to more music, it was simply fantastic and amazing to watch the performances!
I watched performance after performance, after about an hour there seemed to be a short break while the presenter started some interviews with the food vendors about what they were making and selling today. Remarkably though the conversations were in Japanese I actually understood most of what was being said!
I used this short break to head over and find some food, being simple and cheap I picked up some karaage (Japanese fried chicken pieces) and asked the stall owner what this event was and when it finished. I was told it was a music contest / competition and that it would go on till about 4pm.
Being that it was about midday that meant another 4 hours to go. I rejoined and watched more performances for a couple more hours till there was another short break while the presenter was going through a lost and found asking what belonged to people. At this stage I was in dire need of some coffee, as though the adrenaline of the festival was keeping me awake I was now starting to crash badly. I managed to grab a cup from a shop on the edge of the festival and relaxed on a bench outside with some others enjoying the music.
I headed back to my position in front of the stage and continued to watch as the show went on, I had decided I was staying till the end as it would be a shame to miss anything, plus with such a great atmosphere and with everyone being so cheerful and happy it was exactly what I needed. Wakayama is a magical place and it was exactly what I needed to forget all the events of the previous week, Wakayama had in less than a day, managed to remind me again just how great things really are in Japan! I began to wish I could just stay here!
At the end of everything there was a massive celebration as the winners were announced, there was an encore as they performed their dance one more time. Then a huge celebration as all of the performances and acts joined the stage together to perform one final massive song and dance, it really lifted me up and was such a superb performance. I felt lucky that I’d ended up here to see it all! It felt like a great big party and felt like Japan was giving me a massive send off. To all the people that performed that day and to Wakayama, thank you for such a great time!!
Sadly due to me having spent the whole night on the streets and the floor of Kyoto station my camera and tablet had not been charged, so their battery levels were critical at this point which meant limited photo and video capture for me, however I have since found some videos of the event on YouTube (recorded by someone else), and I strongly urge you to check them out.
This video was of the winning group (My favorite performance also as it turns out)
This video was the group celebrations after (though the camera doesn’t capture the people to the sides of the stage)
Also the person who uploaded those has videos of all the other acts through the day also, so well worth a watch.