Summer festivals in Japan don't necessarily need to be steeped in tradition, ritual and ceremony. Some of them - like the 34th Ashiya Summer Carnival held last night - are simply glorified beach parties, an excuse to feel the sand between your toes while squealing at fireworks. After a day of thunderstorms and torrential rain, luckily by sunset the skies had cleared - and it seemed like the whole of Hyogo prefecture turned up to enjoy the show.
Ashiya is a perfect gem of a city, about halfway between Osaka and Kobe. It's nestled behind a mountain range, and has a sparkling tree-lined river that turns into the sprawling Osaka Bay. My friend told me it's known as Japan's Hollywood because so many famous people live there. As we walked along the river to the carnival, we could easily make out a number of beautiful mansions - actual mansions, too, not just the Japanese meaning of a mansion!
Riverbank and flash houses
After a 40 minute walk along the riverbank with about 50,000 people, we made it to the beach right on time for the fireworks display. Fireworks were watched intermittently with visiting food stalls. I chose my favourites; takoyaki and toffee apples. The toffee apple somehow ended up all through my hair. Actually, apple ended up being the theme of the night. On the way home we stopped into a conbini for drinks, and ended up discovering apple flavoured Fanta. It was a big deal.