Azabu Juban Matsuri


Even though I've been in Japan nearly 2 years I've really never been to a Japanese Matsuri (festival). I've stumbled upon a few before especially near the temple in Shinjuku but probably the #1 thing about a Japanese Matsuri is all the food and since I found the other matsuris by accident and I had already eaten and didn't really feel like partaking in the festivities (ie, eating lots more).

The other thing that has prevented me from going is not having any friends. Something I'd like to talk about in more depth but not here.

Anyway, I was invited to the Azabu Juban Matsuri. Azabu Juban is a city in Tokyo. Where as most Matsuris are sponsored by various temples and the matsuri itself takes place around the temple the Azabu Juban Matsuri is not related to a temple. I don't know it's history but one of my friends said she thinks it's the largest matsuri in terms of booths which all Japanese matsuris have.

This particular matsuri is pretty huge. Covering an entire neighborhood and then some, there are probably 700 or more booths, 80 percent of them selling food. The only down part of that is that 90 percent of the food booths are selling 1 of about 10 kinds of food.

A Japanese matsuri is generally CROWDED. We're talking wall to wall people (or booth to booth). You couldn't stop in the middle of the road if you wanted to as you'd be pushed along by the crowd. It's a wonder there aren't more *incidents* but I guess the Japanese in particular are used to it from riding the trains every morning.

Here you can see the crowd down one of the roads the matsuri was taking place on. This particular matsuri happens on a regular shop filled road so behind all the booths are stores. Many of then running their own booths.
Here's a typical booth. This is Kushiyaki which could best be described as shikabobs or barbequed food on a stick.
You may have heard of yakitori before. Well, yaki tori basically means barbequed chicken. My understanding is that the barbequed food on a stick is actually called Kushiyaki of which yakitori is only one type.

Here you can see oysters (top), muscles (middle), squid (bottom)

90% of Japanese traditional sweets seem to feature anko which is sweet beans. A ton of different kinds of bread based pastries with anko inside exist. They each of course have a different name.
If he had cooked these in little cupcake like holes in the grill these would be doreyaki but as he folded them over they are something else.
These are various fruits, the orange ones being apricots (anzu in Japanese). They are incased in some kind of candy that would best be described as almost solidified corn syrup. They are sitting in a big block of ice with little dimples for each one. I felt like I was going to lose teeth eating them since the candy stuck all over my teeth but then I gathered your supposed to lick them not chew them. Oops. 😃
A guy grilling beef kushiyaki. You could probably get this in the states.
For all you scared to eat anything people rest assure there's always something for you.😛
Another 10% of the booths are games. Mostly for kids. Here you try to catch goldfish with a paper net. The trick is that as soon as you put the net in the water it's pretty much useless because the water ruins the paper so there is some skill involved in using it to catch them.
Not only fish but you can catch turtles too.
Barbequed Squid on a stick. Yum. This is the halfsize size.
And of course we've got to have fish on a stick. Next time I'm going to have to try that. It's so hard to pick which things to eat and which to pass on this time since there's so much stuff
Not *French* fried potatoes just fried potatoes.
Shaved ice (snowcones) is big in Japan, especially in the summer since it's so hot. At this both they just give you the ice and you add the flavored syrup yourself.
This is Jaga Bata. Imo is the word for potato in Japanese. Jaga Imo is the kind of potato we find in the west alot. Bata is the Japanese pronunciation of "butter" so this is Potatoes with butter. They steam them so they were alot softer than any stateside potato I've had.
Dough on a stick. Actually I think this is mochi which is made by pounding rice into a dough. It's very very chewy.
How about baby octopus on a stick. In fact you get 3 per stick. What a deal. They're almost too cute to eat.
Another common dish a matsuri. Okonomiyaki. There are several ways to make this. Some based on the region of Japan. Some based on what the cook thinks will sell.
Okonomiyaki is made from cabbage, flour, eggs and some kind of meat (any kind will do). After it's cooked sauce and mayo are added. 
Making Takoyaki (Tako = Octopus). You can find booths like this even when there's no matsuri though they won't be this busy.
Octopus always looks good to me. It's not slimy like squid for example or stinky like fish can often be.
Up close Takoyaki is basically octopus dumplings. You eat them with sauce and mayo. For you squeamish this would probably be the best way to first experience octopus as the parts are small and make up less than 10% of each dumpling.
Another thing about Japanese matsuri is it's one of the few reasons for Japanese to wear traditional clothes. These are YugataYukata. They are very beautiful. Both the clothes and the girls. I wish I had taken more pictures.
Azabu Juban is in the area of Tokyo where there are lots of foreigners so there was an international section with foods from around 20 different countries. Here is come kind of Indian chicken cooking up.
The absolute coolest thing I saw though was the Taiko drum players. They were standing on a big fake boat and people below were doing a traditional dance around the ship. Anybody could join into the dance. There seemed to be a troupe of 5 people doing the drums. One 40 something guy (maybe the teacher) and 4 20 something girls. They were awesome.
Check out the movies below (each 1.3 meg. As the frame rate is only 15hz it's a little hard to see the details but it's not just drumming it's almost dancing.

Man playing Taiko
Girl #1 playing Taiko
Girl #2 playing Taiko
Switching players

All the little taps you hear in those videos are that person either tapping the edge of the taiko drum or hitting the drumsticks together. They were mesmerizing to watch.

This particular festival is at night. 4pm to 9pm. 9pm is a little to soon to close up but they have to tear the entire thing down every night and rebuild it the next day and as the trains stop at 12 I guess that gives them 3 hours to clean up.

I'm curious how this stuff gets organized. It doesn't seem like we have all that many festivals in the states. We have things like the garlic festival, and the renaissance fare and we have air shows and state fairs. There are several festivals every single weekend in the summer in Japan including the big fireworks festivals which I again missed this summer. :−. There's also at least one a month or more around the various temples around Tokyo though most of them are probably not as big as this one.

I'd like to know if all the booths are run by individuals or if they are mostly run by organizations raising money for example. I don't think it's the later because there are no signs saying "support the troop #12" for example.

So far it has not gone commercial which is a good thing. The annoying thing about American festivals is except for the main event many of them have become so commercialized that you might as well go to the mall removing half the reason for going in the first place.

I really missed out on taking pictures of girls in YugataYukata. They are all wearing them to show off (and to have fun) so I'm pretty sure that would have all been happy to pose for a picture like the girls above. The biggest excuse being that it was so crowded that it would be hard to do

Maybe only 5% of the people there are in traditional clothes and of that 5% it's probably women 20 to 1. That's probably because the women's clothes are more interesting, brighter colors. They also put up their hair and carry special purses.

Here's a few I stole from Takashimaya's Web Page until I get a chance to take my more of my own. If you check out that page click the fish at the bottom.

I did manage to talk myself into wearing mine that a friend gave me a couple of years ago.

Most of the men's are more bland colors like this. I'm missing my obi (the belt). I wore a fanny pack instead for my obi since I needed to carry my camera and a few other things as well. 😊

Even though the men in yukata were few I did manage to see at least 3 other foreign men in yukata which was cool.

I was a little scared to wear it because I wasn't sure anybody would be wearing them at this particular matsuri and I knew the friends I was going to meet would not. It though maybe it was really only a firework matsuri thing. I ended up asking a neighbor on the 1st floor of my building if she thought it was alright. She said it was a great idea.

Still, it's a little strange walking to the train station and riding and being the only person dressed up like this. I guess like of like being a clown for hire. It wasn't until I actually got to the matsuri and saw all the others that I was finally comfortable.

I did get alot of looks. I prefer to believe they were looks of attraction and not looks of *weirdo* 😉

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