Think that Japanese culture is all about Zen quiet and peaceful contemplation? You might be surprised to know that's only one part of the picture. One of the most famous ways that Japanese people cast off inhibition, let off steam and have a roaring good time is matsuri—the religious festivals that end in rowdy celebrations.
A Bit of Matsuri History
While they occur throughout the year, the most famous matsuri happen in the humid summer months, and were traditionally organized to appease gods to resolve or ward off summer-time threats like epidemics, pests and typhoons. The Gion Matsuri, Kyoto's biggest festival, has been held since the year 869, started in response to an epidemic that was ravaging the city.
Highlights of the matsuri include the joyful procession of portable shrines, donning of yukata, thundering drums, fireworks, and games.
Delicious Matsuri Food
The ultimate appeal in our opinion though is the amazing street food of matsuri. Sold by vendors at various stalls, the mix of savory and sweet foods creates an intoxicating aroma. Here are some of our favorites matsuri snacks:
Takoyaki (Octopus Dumplings)
These delicious savory dumplings are made with a flour flavored with dashi and in a special pan (available here). Filled with piping hot pieces of octopus they are topped with an umami-delicious sauce.
Okonomiyaki (Savory cabbage pancake)
In this dish, cabbage is cooked in a thick batter, topped with meat or seafood. Then moreish Okonomiyaki sauce, Kewpie mayonnaise, dried seaweed and bonito flakes are layered on top to drool-worthy effect. Yum! Recreate this dish at home with our Okonomiyaki set.
Taiyaki (Fish-shaped cake)
Ready to satisfy your sweet tooth? Taiyaki will do just that. These cakes are shaped after tai, (Japanese red sea bream) a fish that symbolizes good luck and are filled with anko (sweet red bean paste), or custard. With our Taiyaki pan, and organic anko paste you can easily create this sweet afternoon snack at home!
Other classic offerings include yakisoba (noodles made with worcestershire sauce), grilled corn and squid, cotton candy and kakigori (shaved ice).
Matsuri and COVID19
In the new reality ushered in by the coronavirus epidemic, many matsuri across Japan were cancelled or postponed. That being said, the matsuri spirit was still alive and well, as organizers planned small-scale matsuri events to livestream, giving fans access to behind-the-scenes footage and ways to connect digitally. Making matsuri treats at home was also another way to take a ‘socially distanced’ matsuri experience to the next level!
Edit: July, 2023. This year, after 3 years of COVID restrictions, the Gion Matsuri will take place in Kyoto at full level and the whole city is excited! Be sure to follow our Instagram account to get a peek into this year's celebrations!