Despite the oppressive heat and humidity, the summertime is one of my favorite times of the year in Japan. Why, you may ask? Because during the summer in Japan, there are many matsuri that take place. A matsuri is a Japanese festival. The word matsuri is a noun, derived from the verb matsu which means “to wait” or “to invite”. There are festivals at various times of the year, but there is a large concentration of local matsuri during the summertime (or early autumn), usually related to the rice harvest. If you attend one of these matsuri you will usually find many little booths selling all sorts of food and souvenirs, as well as booths with activities such as the goldfish snatch (you are given a bowl or bag and allowed one dip into the water to see how many goldfish you can catch–then those are the fish you get to take home). In addition to these booths there is always some sort of entertainment, whether it be a taiko performance, or karaoke.
The Fuji Mama household has been to 2 different matsuri this summer. The first was the Mitama matsuri at Yasukuni Shrine, which the Fuji Mama household went to on July 13th and 14th (it was pouring rain on the 14th). This was the 61st year that this matsuri has been held. It was started in 1947 following the end of World War II to comfort the souls of approximately two and a half million war dead who are enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine. As many as 300,000 people come to the matsuri every year, probably in part because of the amazing lantern display. The festival is known for its beautiful lantern display in the evening, created by using 400 bonbori lanterns displayed on both sides of the path leading up to the shrine, as well as 30,000 dedicated lanterns in various sizes. A special ceremony honoring the souls of the shrine occurs every evening during the matsuri. Various other entertainment occurs as well, such as taiko drumming.The second was the Azabu juban matsuri, another very popular matsuri in Tokyo. The Fuji Mama household went to this matsuri a week and a half ago on a Friday evening, August 24th. I was particularly excited by two purchases at this matsuri. The first was a very lightly pickled Japanese cucumber on a stick called kyuri asa-zuke:
The second purchase was a hand carved spice holder in the shape of a gourd filled with shichimi tōgarashi (七味唐辛子, “seven flavor chili pepper”), a common Japanese spice mixture that is yummy on so many things. The man at the booth asked me if I wanted it mild, medium, or spicy (I chose spicy, of course!) and then proceeded to make the spice mix in front of me. When he was finished he had me smell it to make sure it was to my liking, and then filled the holder and put the extra into a bag with instructions to keep it in the fridge until I used it to refill the holder. YUM!