Japanese culture seems to embrace every chance it has to come together, as a family, neighborhood or country… and eat! Social gatherings are an important aspect of the Japanese culture, and one of the best ways for a tourist to experience this is to find a festival! Festivals happen almost every month of the year so, in addition to reading the ones I have listed and looking up some on your own, chances are, with a walk around town, you’ll find one. I did!
Osaka has dedicated several days to one of Japan’s most popular foods—ramen. Although Ramen Expo is relatively new, (established in 2013,) each year the event invites more than 110,000 people from all over the world. In December, these wandering attendees enjoy both the enticing smell as well as a steaming, fresh bowl of ramen from one of the many stalls for an affordable price. It is about $2.50 to enter for adults and only about $0.70 for elementary and junior high students. So when you go to this festival, make sure to have an empty stomach and plenty of layers. But don’t worry, one slurp of this ramen and you will warm up in no time.
In addition to visiting the Peace Memorial and Museum in Hiroshima, make sure to add “eating oysters” to your list. Oysters, (and okonomiyaki,) are one of Hiroshima’s popular foods. And from January to March, it’s oyster season! Every February in Miyajima, an island off the coast of Hiroshima, holds their annual Miyajima Oyster Festival. Because oyster farms are so abundant here, it is easy to get them fresh. You can purchase one or two oysters for only $1-2—that’s a bargain! Still love oysters, but not raw? This festival also sells oyster nabe, hot oyster stew, and oyster udon. So come grab an oyster and a beer or cup of sake, relax and watch old folk tales, taiko and other performances during the Oyster Festival.
Takao Nabe Festival
In the Toyama Prefecture, Takaoka City prepares and cooks several large pots full of nabe, a Japanese traditional stew. There are a variety of nabe and often include some sort of meat, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, tofu, onions and other hardy ingredients. And while you are in the area, on the other side of Toyama Prefecture, just outside of Tateyama, another area celebrates the traditional dish. Toyama Nabe Jiman Taikai, like Takaoka City, will be making and selling nabe to all visitors. Although you have to pay about $3.00 to enter, every person does get a free, piping hot bowl of nabe. Luckily, both festivals occur in January so you will be able to eat more than enough.
Hokkaido Food Festival
The spacious and upbeat area of Yoyogi Park hosts many events—one of the more delicious ones being the Hokkaido Food Festival. Many visitors come to the free event in search of Hokkaido’s most famous and high-quality seafood. They have just about everything including cod, octopus, salmon, scallops, shrimp, roe, herring and bowls with a combination. Several booths sell Hokkaido’s iconic beer, Sapporo. And if you are interested in tasting more than one, you can purchase beer flights at reasonable prices. Chicken and pork dishes are also commonly sold, either on small plates or on sticks. Perfect for walking around the festival! Then you can finish off the day with a rich, thick and creamy soft serve, made with fresh milk.
Meguro Kumin Matsuri
In Miyagi prefecture, the Meguro Kumin Matsuri is always one of the largest festivals in the area, every year. Taking place in the city of Kesennuma, long lines of people gather to wait for the 5,000 meguro, (Japanese for saury,) to be freshly grilled. Caught off the shores of the nearby Meguro-gawa River, meguro arrive to the festival as fresh as can be!
TAKEAWAY: There are several other activities accompanying the Meguro Kumin Matsuri festival including taiko drumming, storytelling and many things for the little ones to enjoy.
Mochitsuki is a traditional festival in which a community comes together to celebrate the coming of a new year. Residents prepare and pound out mochi—sweet, sticky rice commonly served with red bean paste. These festivals take place within a household as well as a neighborhood or an area, and often have other foods and entertainment too. So with a good walk around town, or if you have friends who live in Japan, you are bound to find one. I found a local mochitsuki wandering around the neighborhood with my friend, and the community was happy to let us join for a small fee. There, we were able to taste one of Japan’s most iconic sweets—warm, sticky and freshly made mochi.
It is amazing to think that, with a leisurely walk around town, I was able to discover a fun and traditional festival. I also had the pleasure of happening upon a Korean Festival, a German Festival and even just a small one put on by a nearby elementary school. These festivities are a great way to not only experience one aspect of Japanese culture but also get your hands on some delicious and authentic food!