Sunday, October 5, 2014
Autumn Chestnut Festival
I've been keeping my eye out for festivals coming up in the Autumn months since I've never been in Japan during this season before. The moon viewing one we found toward the beginning of September was nothing short of magical, and I've been excited to seek out what sorts of other cultural celebrations go on this time of year. One big festive Autumn 'thing' in Japan is the chestnut harvest, and all things chestnut flavoured. Every snack item you see around conbinis and grocery stores starts popping up in fun seasonal varieties like chestnut, kabocha (japanese pumpkin ) and sweet potato. I've been checking in every store I pass for fun things to eat in these seasonal flavours, and after trying chestnut ice cream, pino, mushi pan, cookies, breads, custard, and pastries, I think it's safe to say it's quickly becoming one of my favorite flavours. I still want to try basic roasted chestnuts that I keep smelling from street vendors, and I'd love to try to make my own paste and bake fun things at home.
When I saw an advertisement for a local Kuri Matsuri ( chestnut festival ) I got so excited and marked it on our calendar weeks in advance. It was about an hour by train out to the Okunitama Shrine where the festival was held, but as soon as we got off the train we knew it was worth it. The sounds of traditional drums and flutes filled the air, the roasted and grilled smells of festival foods came wafting all the way to the station and we could already discern the magical glow of hundreds of paper lanters lighting the street leading up to the shrine. What I didn't realize, is that while this festival commemorates and celebrates the chestnut harvest, and the offerings of chestnuts to important clans during the Edo period, it also coincides with a large kagura dance celebration as well. So it was a pleasant surprise to walk past all the lanterns and vendors to the end of the road and find a whole street filled with wood floats lit by lanterns and filled with live music and dance performers in traditional costume.
Each float represented a different neighborhood around the Tokyo and surrounding areas, and it was interesting to try and listen for the different songs coming from each one, and to see the varying costumes, designs, and colours. Some people were dressed like dragons, or gods, or demons, and some people wore masks to look like Edo-era peasants or farmers or noblefolk. The dragon-costumed dancers moved so fast and frenetically that I couldn't get a shot since it was so dark and I needed a longer shutter speed. I filmed them though- the dancing was really cool- and I'm hoping to put together a video soon of the different dances and details of the festival.
The lanterns were all made and painted by members of the local neighborhood during the week leading up to the festival. Sadly, we missed the lighting of the lanterns earlier that day because the trip took us longer than we had anticipated, and we got on some of the wrong trains and had to backtrack. It certainly was breathtaking anyway, though, to be able to stroll along the shrine's path lit only by dim flickering lanterns. It was such a beautiful night. This festival had all the works I was hoping for- beautiful ambience, interesting culture activities, significant history, all sorts of fun festival food, and quintessential festival games. And once again, I was so excited to be able to wear a yukata in this atmosphere.
My favorite game, which I'm not very good at yet, is the goldfish-catching booth. There is a shallow tank filled with fish, and you receive a small bowl and a rice paper paddle and the goal is to use the paddle to catch fish and place them in your bowl. The trick is, the rice paper is very thin and once it gets wet, it breaks very easily, and once it's broken, you're out! I've only caught a fish once, the last time we were here, but it died the next morning:/ I tried this time, but wasn't able to catch anything. BUT- this is Japan- and everything is better here- and this particular booth ended up giving everyone a fish at the end of the game no matter what. The lady gave me two! Say hello to Tai and Yaki, the newest additions to our family, who are, at this point, still very much alive.
Posted by Kitsune-kun at 6:40 PM