Strengthened Bond of Friendship

Seppo Pietilainen
President for Finnish Federation of Caravanning

We, my wife and I, arrived at the Narita International Airport in Tokyo on Sunday, 5th October. After a flight lasting nearly ten hours, we were extremely tired when we arrived at the hotel in Tokyo. However, the culture we met soon refreshed us. The politeness and willingness to help, which we are not used to at such an extent in Europe, won our hearts immediately.

The traffic in Tokyo is another story completely. The traffic system is, however, quite easy to perceive, and thereafter it was easy to travel from one place to another. The weather in Tokyo was quite favorable, the temperature was well over 20 degrees Celsius. During our three day stay, we visited quite a number of sights, department stores and restaurants, and we were charmed with the Tokyo way of life.

On Wednesday morning, 8th October, we went to the car rental agency in a state of tension to get the car we had rented in advance. This almost new Nissan turned out to be a very suitable means of transport. We drove from Tokyo to Kita-karuizawa and when it got dark we spent the night at the Hills Hotel near the rally. Next morning we noticed that the French group had stayed at the same hotel and was just leaving for the rally.

Cheerfully, but somewhat tensely, the travel-weary Finnish group of 27 persons arrived via a different route to the foot of the still active Asama volcano. The tableland of great natural beauty fired with autumn tints was a breathtaking sight. We were at a height of about 1,100 meters, which at that time meant cold night, -6 degrees Celsius at the coldest. The reception at the rally was warm; the reunion of friends was unforgettable.

Sweet Grass, the location of the rally, is situated less than 200 kilometers north-west of Tokyo in Kita-karuizawa, which is one of the most famous natural parks in Japan. Naganohara is the nearest city and the Olympic city Nagano is 90 kilometers away.

The rally had brought together participants from ten countries, meaning a total of 600 persons. The opening ceremony was, and always is, one of the most memorable events of the F.I.C.C. rally. Also this time, after the march for which the participants had dressed in colorful attire, we saw a great number of Japanese traditional programs. I was most impressed by the powerful performance of the drum group, the sound of which still rang in our ears long after the spectacle. The happening became boisterous when, after the unique program, the sake cask was opened with a sledgehammer as according to Japanese tradition. Many of those who opened the cask got wet doing so!

During the rally we made trips into the surrounding areas. Our visits to the Asama Volcano Museum, the hot springs of Kusatsu, and the magnificent crater of Shirane, the summit of which rose to 2,162 meters, were unforgettable. The ascent to Shirane summit was slow in a Japanese way because that weekend thousands and thousands of people had decided to go on the same trip as us.

During the rally friendly relations were strengthened even though there was not always a common language. The international evening with its accomplished performances crowned the program, to which its own expressive mark was left by the performance of our folk dance group. Also present at the rally was a colorful group from NaganoharaÕs sister city Livingston, Montana, U.S.A., who brought greetings from the Yellowstone National Park.

The closing ceremony came in due course and the parting of the ways was at hand again. Next year we will meet in South Korea and possible in Poland; this was our wish that we expressed to one another. Sayonara!

As most of the Finns headed by bus for the mountain health resort, we started towards the 1998 Olympic city Nagano. After taking a room at the hotel, we drove along 50 kilometers of old mountain roads to the village of Hakuba where the Olympic ski-jumping and cross country skiing events will take place. The location of the games with its snow-capped mountains was extremely impressive. We returned to Nagano along the new road built especially for the traffic of the games. The road was an impressive sample of engineering skills. The next day we visited the Nagano Olympic sights, for instance the M-Wave speed skating arena and the Big Hat ice-hockey rink. Magnificent constructions! We also visited a real historical sight, the Zenkoji temple which has a Buddha history of 1,400 years.

We stayed the night in a bridal hotel near the city of Kofu. An experience in itself! In the morning we could admire the impressive features of Mount. Fuji. During the day we drove peacefully to Tokyo and further on to the Narita Airport Hotel. We returned the car. We noticed that we had driven 1,050 kilometers and enjoyed every kilometer. In the evening the rest of the Finnish group arrived at the hotel. We rejoiced in seeing one another again.

The following morning we left the country which we will visit again some time in the future.

January 1998 (Asia-Pacific News No.3)

Mark of Asia Pacific Commission

Japanese Site