Matsuri means local festival/fair/fete and there are many of them held throughout the year because just about every shrine celebrates its own special day.
Today is the start of my local festival in Azabu-Juban, Tokyo.
Things you may find at a typical matsuri include games such as trying to catch a turtle or fish in a paper net; a procession of men in loincloths carrying a mikoshi – a small shrine; Japanese “festival cuisine” such as takoyaki (fried squid balls) or yakisoba (fried noodles) or chocolate-and-sprinkle covered bananas, my personal favourite. My Japanese friend S, her 2 mates and I went with her friends and had some Japanese delicacies such as tuna cheek, fried chicken and fresh farm ice cream. Millions of lanterns are hung up and down the street – I love the colourful paper lanterns!
There’s often a market area where you can buy tea and Japanese sweets and pottery – sometimes antiques too, which is most thrilling for me.
The turtles are my favourite part of a matsuri – they are so cute. It’s where JM bought my little guys for me four years ago. I like the fish too, but they just aren’t as responsive.
My local festival is the Azabu Juban Matsuri, which is held every August for an entire weekend – or maybe 3 days. This is an old and affluent area of Central Tokyo and is home to several embassies, import shops and international schools so our festival has an international food court across the road and lots of champagne and sangria. I had the best Portuguese and French last year and this year it was Brazilian and Thai! I love to see the parades and dances – both Japanese and foreign ones in this area, as you can imagine.
Azabu Juban is famous for its tatami mats so the shops on the side lanes sell them on the streets.
Most of the larger festivals have a stage and I got to Azabu-Juban last year in time to see some of the traditional singers and dancers like this lady. She was pretty good.
There are a couple of shrines in Azabu Juban but the main temple is Zenpuku-ji Temple. It was founded in 824 – the current building is more recent, of course. The festivals traditionally have a religious aspect (hence the parade with the shrine) and most of these festivals are sponsored by one or several temples in the area but the Azabu Juban festival is independent of this sponsorship. Still, I like to check out the Zenpuku-ji Temple whenever I am in the area.
There were a lot of people out today in their crazy t-shirts printed with English (“Engrish”) phrases that made no sense at all – this is everywhere in Tokyo, not just at the Matsuri. I will never figure out why the t-shirt companies don’t CHECK before they print. I have enough material for an Engrish entry – it’s coming next in the next month or so.
The best thing about Matsuri, by the way, is that so many people turn up in their yukata – everyone looks beautiful in their summer kimono!