Summer in Japan is brutal. It’s always hotter than it needs to be, the humidity makes me feel like I’ve just left a sauna, and when it’s not making me produce endless beads of sweat, it’s raining. Hard. However, not all is horrible in 90 plus degree Fahrenheit weather. Summer in Japan just doesn’t mean “hot”- it also means… FESTIVALS!
Trevor and I attended our first summer festival last year, a couple weeks after he arrived to Totsukawa. This year, we were able to attend the Bridge Festival, hosted up in the northern part of the village in Uenoji, home of one of the largest suspension bridges in Japan: Tanize.
The festival itself was held in the lower area of the village. Traffic officers helped usher festival-goers such as us down toward a road leading into a large and open parking lot adjacent to the stalls of food and the performance stage. A large tarp was laid out in the center for everyone to sit, eat, and enjoy the festivities of the day. I saw a lot of my students from both the high school and middle school. Funny enough, I’d say half were happy to see me and say hello while the other half tried really hard to avoid me or try to pretend that they didn’t see me… Silly kids lol.
This being the Bridge Festival, something had to occur on famous Tanize bridge. With the help of my supervisor and another co-worker, we all hopped on the shuttle bus that brought us to the upper portion of the village where another performance was taking place: various taiko drum groups would perform on Tanize bridge itself! Just a reminder: Tanize is 54 meters (about 178 ft) high from the ground, almost 300 meters (about 984 ft) long, and sways pretty easily with any movement taken.
We weren’t prepared as much as we wanted to be (we caught the last shuttle bus that would go towards the bridge) so Trevor couldn’t take the photos or videos he wanted to take. But just watching each group perform with high spirits and energy was worth seeing alone. Especially because one of the taiko groups had some of my students from the junior high! I had no idea they were a part of a taiko group. It made me so happy to see them doing something they loved doing and I couldn’t be any more proud of them.
After watching the performance, we trekked back to the bottom of the area, following a path that scaled along the side of the mountain and weaved towards the end of the slope. While we were still on the top of the area though, we all took pictures of the small, yet energetic festival, mountains amidst in the background- a reminder of the isolation and vastness this village is. My supervisor pointed out that you could see lights in the shape of Anpanman! Can you see him?
There were night performances by a (enka?) singer, taiko groups, and various dance groups. Many of the guests crowded together on the tarp to rest and watch the ongoing acts. Two young guys from the churro stand walked around with a plate full of them urging people to buy their churros. (To our amusement, they tried to persuade Trevor and I in English to buy some but sadly, we were getting very full)
One of our favorite things about festivals here is the food. We’ve been trying to eat healthier these days, but on a festival day, we like to say “screw it” and dig in. Here’s a list of some of the nommy festival food we munched on happily: (Sorry, no pictures 😦)
- Yaki onigiri (Grilled riceball): First thing I ate when we got to the festival. I love rice, and riceballs here are delicious. Especially if they’re toasty, golden brown on both sides and biting into one is like the perfect reunion of outer crunchy kernals and soft steamy rice on the inside.
- Fries: Okay, not really special. But next to rice, I love potatoes.
- Takoyaki (Pan-fried octopus dumplings): There was only one takoyaki stand at this festival, and the line was long. Before we even came to the festival, I was in a huge takoyaki craving, so when I saw the stand and the many others who were waiting for the same delicious snack I was drooling for, I knew damn well that I was going to wait in line and get my freakin’ takoyaki no matter how long it took! And when I was finally able to get my box of goodies… I was so happy! For me at least, takoyaki is something that is best eaten hot. (Last year, at a different festival, I tried taking some takoyaki home but after heating it back up, I realized it is much better fresh off the pan) The molten-like heat of the inside just makes it all the more enjoyable.
- Yakitori (Grilled chicken): Trevor’s snack. He loves yakitori, especially if it has tare sauce on it!
- Wiener frank: Or “hot dog on a stick” as Trevor calls it! Another cheap yet fulfilling snack for my husband who loves all the meat!
- Corn dog: Trevor says the corn dogs at this venue tasted almost exactly like ones from back home! And he’s had quite a bit of corn dogs here so I trust his corn dog palette hehe.
- Churros: Two for 100 yen?! Yes please! There were two flavors: original and chocolate. Had to go with chocolate of course. The churros were kept on a warming plate, so when it was brought out to me, it was as if I’d gotten them fresh. Sugary, warm, and a little crunchy from the edges. And actually cooked on the inside! (I’ve had churros that weren’t cooked all the way through…)
- Kakigoori (Shaved ice): Kakigoori is pretty much the equivalent of a snow cone, but instead, the ice is light and fluffy and it doesn’t feel like there’s barely any flavor in the ice. The vendors where I got my kakigoori were also very generous with how much syrup and sweetened condensed milk they applied. I watched the lady fill shaved ice up to the rim of my cup. She then drizzled heavily the strawberry syrup and sweetened condensed milk over the ice. Added more ice to form a nice mountainous peak on top. And then poured more syrup and milk on top until it started dripping over the edges. Amazing. Sweetened condensed milk makes kakigoori so good too. Definitely a must-try summer treat here.
- Mixed vegetable stick (Eggplant, tomato, and cucumber): Trevor and I have come to love the vegetables here. They’re so delicious, juicy, and actually taste as though they were just picked off the vine. (Which I wouldn’t be surprised if they were) I was thinking of getting a cucumber stick or a tomato stick but around the end of the night, only the mixed sticks were left. Got one to the delight of the old lady at the vendor, and upon eating the first in-line on the stick… I realized that I didn’t like eggplant. So I gave that to my co-worker to finish (because mottainai) and then happily finished off the night with the juicy, plump tomato and the crisp and slightly pickled cucumber.
The night ended with a fireworks show. The fireworks were beautiful for most, terrifying for a lot of the children (LOL) and luckily, it wasn’t even raining! (It did for us last year at Subaru)
Our first time at the Bridge Festival was so much fun! We loved immersing into a tradition for many of the residents here. It was fun to see a lot of my students and stuff myself with festival food. The performances were amazing and it just reminds me of how lucky we are to be placed in an area where we can experience this kind of event.
Another festival will be coming up this week on Saturday, hosted at Subaru Hotel. It’ll be our second time going, and we’re really excited for what this year’s has to offer! I’m hoping for more takoyaki HEHE.