I was going to say that Japan has a lot of festivals, but then it occurred to me that maybe we just don’t have as many where I live. And in a country of many people living close together with a deep deep culture – there is a lot to festival about. So- two examples, quite different.
Wilf told me that there was a pickle festival to be seen. At first I was thinking ‘okay – pickles. Like dill pickles?’ With a bit of reflection I realized that was probably unlikely. Japanese cuisine has a wide variety of pickled foodstuffs, so who knew what to expect? The website we found said that the festival happened near a particular shrine and involved between 400 and 500 food stalls.
Well then, I’m in!
The story of our travels around Tokyo usually involve us having a plan of how to get to a place, with detailed instructions regarding the transit system. The weak point in the plans is always the same – the point at which we come to the surface. We know where we want to be, but it can be surprisingly difficult to figure how to get started – which way is north? Do we turn right or left. Oftentimes we have to get moving before the wi-fi can decide where we are and tell us which way to go. This can lead to walking back and forth. And muttering.
When we came to the surface this time it was just falling dusk – a lovely time of day. We started off in what we believed was the direction. And right away – in the distance – we could see the lanterns. Good sign!
You know how the website said between 400 and 500 food stalls? I really didn’t think about what that meant. What it meant was blocks and blocks of streets filled with stalls. And those streets were quickly filling up with people.
Bettarazuke (べったら漬) pickled daikon radish
These are the pickles for which everyone has come. And people were buying them to take home in large quantities
Here is the street early on. See what I mean about the lanterns?
The thing about this many stalls is it is actually hard to pick anything. Lets assume 450 stalls. A certain percentage are selling the pickled radishes. We probably passed 30 different sellers of okinomiyaki (お好み焼き savory pancakes), and at least as many takoyaki (たこ焼き deep fried octopus balls) vendors. And then there yakisoba (fried noodles with other stuff) and it went on and on.
And then we saw this:
These are little fish and big shrimp being grilled over a charcoal fire, turned and turned and turned until they were all cooked and smokey.
And beer. And a place to sit.
Picking out things on sticks for the grill.
That was a fun thing to do, and it is a festival that has deep roots in the culture.
There was another street fair this past weekend near the Koen-ji train station. The ads said there would be performances in the area, a beer garden, things to see on the shopping street. Among the performances were to be folk dancers. Professional wrestlers. Musicians. Samba dancers. Does that not sound like an interesting combination of things to see?
We fell out the door of the train station right into the square where the stage was and found a wall to perch on. There was a folk singer singing very passionately, but it is hard to really connect when we didn’t understand a word she was saying. But in the background we could see – feathers. And I had kind of been wondering if when the program said Samba if that was a Japanese dance form, or did they mean Samba like from Brazil?
Turns out they did mean Samba from Brazil! Lots of tail feathers being shaken there!
This was followed by two different groups of young women in fluffy white dresses singing and dancing their hearts out. JPop Idols, working their way up the ladder.
The thing I’m actually trying to capture in this picture isn’t so much the group. The people – the men – in front who know every word, every gesture and every dance move and are following along. There were a lot of them. We couldn’t tell if this group was performing their own music or covering the tunes of of more famous singers, but the crowd did know the songs, were singing and dancing along.
We did find the beer garden, which was held in the front and back of a small apartment block next to the train tracks. Beer, food, music, families and lots of sunshine. This felt less like a festival of deep cultural significance, and more like a neighbourhood inviting everyone down for a fun afternoon in the sun. We never did see the pro wrestlers. Or the folk dancers.
The folk dancers did, however, show up practically on our street last night!
We arrived right at the tail end of their performance, which had become a big street dance in front of the Don Quixote store.