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The Ashikaga Wine Festival

December 3, 2012

Every year in the city of Ashikaga, Coco Farm and Winery holds a gigantic festival on its grounds, aptly called the Ashikaga Wine Festival. The festival lasts two days (Saturday and Sunday), and draws hundreds of people from all over Japan. Since arriving in Japan, I had heard about the wine festival from Eric and Rob, who had lived and taught in Ashikaga before being moved to Koga. After eight months of hearing so many sung praises, the wine festival finally arrived.

Since I had a school festival on Saturday, we all decided to go on Sunday. The morning began bright and early when I met Courteney and Lauren at the train station at 8:00. It takes about an hour from Koga to Ashikaga and we wanted to make sure that we got to the festival bright and early so we could enjoy it to the fullest. We joined the line to board a bus to get to the festival, but one of us had the idea to contact our friend Satoshi to see if he also was going to the festival. Luckily for us he was on his way there with Eric, and they were more than willing to stop by the train station to pick us up to go to the vineyard.

After finding a place to park, the five of us queued up to pay admission, which was ¥3000 (approximately $36.60). Now, that sounds rather steep for an admission fee, but when you pay, you are handed a goodie bag containing wine, an opener, a wine glass, a glass holder that you can wear around your neck, and a food item of some sort. The food depended on what kind of wine you chose. If you wanted red wine, you received Camembert cheese and you got garlic bread if you chose the white wine. We decided to be rather tricky about it and share everything. So, some people got white wine, others got red and we split all of the food.

With our goodie bags in hand, we then set off to find a place to sit. It rained the previous day, so everywhere was super crowded. The festival basically consists of picnicking on the side of a hill, where you sit down to eat food and drink wine. Before coming to pick us up, Satoshi and Eric had dropped Rob off at the festival to start looking for a place to sit. Above our heads were the wires that are used as support as the grapevines grow. While it’s November, and past growing time, we still had a few vines on the wire. Though it was sunny outside, it chilly, made all the worse with a brisk wind that kept blowing plant matter into our wine glasses.

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Check out the crowds.

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Showing off the goods.

Opening the first bottle!

Opening the first bottle!

The wires were sometimes of a pain, because you had to duck in order to go beneath them if you needed to go anywhere. For the most part, it was best to stay put due to the sheer number of people you’d have to crawl over. However, there is a time when nature calls, and it’s best to make a preemptive strike in situations such as this, especially since the bathroom lines here can have up to a forty minute wait. I’m not even kidding. I timed it with my watch. Luckily, I had my cell phone to keep myself entertained, and I caught up with a few friends through text messaging while I had to wait.

Satoshi demonstrates a good use for the wires.

Satoshi demonstrates a good use for the wires.

As with all celebrations involving alcohol, things began to get a bit silly towards the end. People were losing their balance and stumbling all over the place, as well as finding places to curl up take a nap. And, of course, plenty of people drank to the point of illness, as it usually happens at places that provide large quantities of alcohol.

I wonder how much this person drank.

I wonder how much this person drank.

The festivities ended at around 3:00, and the picnickers were given another half hour to clean up and collect our things before the staff kicked everyone out. They kept playing different covers of a farewell song, just so people would get the hint. On our way out, I just had to take a picture of one last thing.

So many bottles!

So many bottles!

Those bottles were just the tip of the iceberg! It was amazing how much wine was consumed over the course of a few hours. All in all, it was a fantastic day, and now I understand why Eric and Rob talk about this festival so much. Perhaps now I’ve joined the ranks of praise-singers.

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