I just attended my first Japanese Festival!
Attending a Japanese festival was high on my list, and I’m so glad I got to do it! Festivals always hold amazing wonders. Great people watching, performances, often times art and always food. Oh, and women trying to net some lucky fish.
Origins of the Gion Matsuri Festival
Just like most Japanese festivals, Gion Matsuri has ancient origins. Developing as a purification ritual to appease the gods that caused fires, earthquakes (popular in Japan), and floods it dates back to the early 500’s. While it is still hoped that those events don’t occur in Japan, the festival is now more about remembering those ancient times.
Gion Matsuri runs through the entire month of July, ending with a giant parade to end all parades. Unfortunately, I won’t be here for that part of the epic-ness, but I did manage to attend today. Events on the docket included live performances and the wide availability of traditional Japanese metaphysics. Oh, and the amazing food – have I mentioned that yet?
Let’s get down to it.
Gion Matsuri takes place around the base of a temple. Inside, you can see some of the traditional wooden floats modeling the ones that will be used in the parade.
There’s plenty of magical things happening all around. You can get your luck divined. Or, you could buy charms to assist you with an area you might be struggling in. You could even put up a paper tie and ask that a particular wish be granted.
There was also a stage where live performances were happening, but I was too short to be able to see anything or get a good picture as this area was particularly crowded.
I spent my time combing the temples, paying special admiration to the lanterns. The amount of pride for tradition that was around me was wonderful. Women (and men) dressed in Yakutas (summer kimonos) and the clop, clop, clop of traditional wooden shoes.
The food tour begins!
So far Japan has been the only country where I haven’t had to break down and get ‘western food’. I’d say that Laos was the worst for me in that way, but I am loving all the Japanese food. Bento, sushi and ramen all day long baby.
As an itchy, possibly undiagnosed ADD person, I want to be going, doing, touching and interacting. After looking at the temples, I admired the people and then I was ready to go down ‘food stall alley’, which featured many fine booths with traditional Japanese foods.
I hopped from one to another picking up one serving of each, eating my bank account along with the street food.
1. Grilled King Crab stick with mayo and some mystery spices.
Someone once gave me some really great advice: “If you see a short line, get in it”! So I did. As I moved closer to the front to see what all the fuss was about – BAM! Giant effing crabstick. These were grilled with some sauce, and then served to you for dressing.
I admit, part of my technique to succeed in countries where no one speaks English is to just do what everyone else is doing. Go with the flow. People were being served their crabsticks and then adding spices to them via shakers that were sitting next to a bottle of mayo for squeezing. I added everything and WOW it was good! The meat was succulent and flavorful. MM MM MMMMM!!
Essentially “grilled meat”. I ate this too quickly to get a good picture of the actual dish – a testament to how delicious it was. I’m pretty sure I picked pork, but whatever it was I loved it. The grilled flavoring, soft meat, and the amazing sauce. I can feel all the weight I lost coming back.
3. Candied Fruits
I had the choice between tangerines, grapes, apples or plums. I thought the grapes looked adorable so I went for those. Wow, talk about fun to eat!! I would pull a grape off the skewer and it would POP! in my mouth. Combined with all the sugar melting, my mouth was watering so much.
4. Savory crepes
This one was a risk for me. I wasn’t sure what was in it, and if that red sprinkling on top was spicy or not. Luckily, Japanese food isn’t spicy like Thai food and most of the flavors are mind in terms of heat. I decided to take the plunge and got a crepe.
The edges were nice and crisp – my favorite. Once I got to the middle though…ehh not so much. I’m not sure what was in the middle, but I wasn’t digging the texture or the flavor so the crows got a fancy meal from me. There are tons of crows in Japan BTW.
INTERMISSION: This is all over the course of a day, okay? Breakfast lunch and dinner all here – not to belittle the totally shameless gluttony, but I’m just sayin’. Now, with that being said…I don’t think I want to eat tomorrow LOL!
5. Green Tea Ice Cream
I’m not a big fan of green tea. I find that it’s rather bitter. The amount of sugar I need to add to make it palatable takes away any sort of health benefits I would get from drinking it so I usually just don’t.
I am, however, a big fan of green tea ice cream! It does taste like green tea, but the bitterness is cut. Duh, ice cream. The texture wasn’t grainy but rather very smooth. Love, love, love!
6. Mitarashi Dango
Dango is something that pops up in most of my favorite anime shows. In the same family as mochi, dango is a small ball made of rice flour. It can then be covered with various sauces or toppings with depicts what type of dango it is. In this case, I tried mitarashi or ‘sweet soy sauce’. This is common at Japanese festivals, and in supermarkets. I’d seen it before but hadn’t tried it until now.
Soft and squishy, I took a big ol’ bite of this and immediately spit it out. UGH! Something about the flavor of the soy sauce (possibly fermented too?) or maybe it was just contrasting with the lingering flavor of the ice cream, I’m not sure but it had to get out of my mouth. I’m willing to try dango again, but we’ll be going with a different flavor at that time.
7. Chocolate waffle, mousse filled sandwich
I remember the first time I tried it I was at Meijers with my mother and sister. We got a sample from the deli counter. We were all like “OMG THAT IS THE BEST THING EVER” and we splurged on a 1/4 lb tub, which I’m pretty sure didn’t even make it home. This brought me right back to that moment.
Once I eventually came out of that moment, I realized that I’d spent the whole day eating wonderful food and that there was no more to try. Or rather, I was out of money for the day.
I left the festival and walked up and down the nearby shopping streets – mainly filled with kitchy, touristy crap and dogs in strollers.
As the sun began to set, I hopped a bus back to the hostel and am now enjoying my food-blogging-coma. A great way to end my last day in Kyoto.
Off to Osaka tomorrow for the super spa!