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113: Koinobori

We made this at playgroup, for Children’s Day on May 5th.

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Thirty-four: Setsubun

We went to the local Shrine for their Setsubun (the holiday marking the end of winter/beginning of spring) festival. The main event was the mamemaki, bean throwing, but there was also hot amazake and a kendo display. The last time we went to a similar event was four years ago in Tokyo, on a cold, snowy, decidedly un-springlike day. This year, though, it was warm enough to believe that winter really was ending.

Light, Soul

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There was a soul festival – mitama matsuri – held at our local shrine during Obon last week. With thousands of lanterns, it was so beautiful I went twice. A local group played koto on my first visit, made with a friend over from the UK (the start of a lovely, lovely evening of eating, drinking, and long-overdue late night chatting). Two nights later, we cycled down after dinner, husband, toddler and I, and were greeted by the sounds of a brass band. “Bit like at the festival” our small girl said, as we wandered back through the lanterns.

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More Dancing!

Last week was the much-anticipated Golden Week here in Japan, and after altogether too much rain at the beginning came a weekend of glorious sunshine, perfect summer days in Spring.

There was a popular festival held here over two of the days, a Very Big Deal, attended by millions of spectators, ourselves included. As with any good festival, there were food stalls aplenty, with sizzling yakitori and okonomiyaki, tiny toffee apples and giant bags of candy floss for those with sweeter teeth.

The main event was a parade lasting several hours. Finishing long past toddler tea-time as it did, we saw but a fraction, toddler riding high on Daddy’s shoulders. We stood at the very end of the route, watching band upon band marching the last few metres, clearly exhausted but (mostly) still all smiles.

The traditional dancers that followed were lovely, and the toddler was captivated, each mention of heading home  greeted with a cry of “more dancing!”

The next big festival here is in the summer, when it will be hot and humid and hard to move at all, and there will be more dancing, and shaved ice (I hope), and we will stand and watch, again.


Wagashi for my Sweet

Yet another blur of a weekend over, one step closer to Spring. If only the seemingly endless rain would, well, end. Saturday (March 3rd) was Hina Matsuri, or Doll’s Festival, aka Girl’s Day (sadly not a national holiday, unlike Boy’s Day/Children’s Festival on May 5th) in Japan. Not having a set of hina dolls for our own small girl, the least we could do was partake in some of the edible traditions, and hina matusri is, in the words of my elderly neighbour (more on her in a bit) an “oishii matsuri”.

Chirashizushi (scattered sushi) and clam soup are traditional, but we stayed on the sweeter (and more ready made) end of things. Tempted though I was by some locally produced amazake, a sweet, non-alcoholic fermented rice drink, I wasn’t convinced the three of us would make it through the bottle, and so settled instead on some sakura mochi. Red bean paste inside sticky rice, wrapped in a salted cherry leaf, I was expecting a reaction of decided indifference from the toddler. She surprised me though, by seeming to quite enjoy it (the bean paste and rice parts anyway, the cherry leaf was roundly rejected, and honestly, I’m with her on that one.).

Home from buying wagashi (and other, more prosaic foodstuffs*) we bumped into our neighbour, who apologised for not having seen us for a while, explaining that she had been having her ‘winter sleep’, and presented us with a box of hina matsuri sweets. Inside were hishi mochi – diamond shaped mochi in layers pink, white and green, reminiscent of neapolitan icecream, sweet emperor-and-empress-adorned rice cakes, and brightly coloured, super sweet sugar birds and flowers. The toddler, unused to such free flowing sugar, inhaled a bird before clamouring for “more more”. Mean mama that I am, she was denied, and placated with a raisin muffin instead.

*Including eggs, two of which broke when I dropped the bag they were in. Last week I did the same though, breaking six, so I’m counting this as a win.