Category Archives: Festivals

Saturday mizzle

I love rainy days. They remind me of my childhood when I’d play and take a shower in the rain. As I grew older, I learned that having fun in the rain was something that adults (or most adults) do not do. Sad, isn’t it? That’s probably why I love to run when it’s raining. Running in the rain is one of my favorite things to do.

Last Saturday, I was a happy runner when I woke up to a mizzly morning. I had one of my best rainy day runs this year. Very few people ventured out, and for those who did, there was a sense of camaraderie. When we intrepid runners ran past each other, we nodded and smiled to one another as if to say “You are a real runner for being out in this weather.” Being in the rain, without an umbrella or a raincoat or a cap, gave me the feeling of being cleansed, both physically and mentally. It was invigorating, relaxing and calming.

My adventure in the rain continued in the afternoon and evening, when I went to a fireworks competition with friends.

It was still drizzling when I walked to my local train station, but I decided to ditch my umbrella and cap. I bumped into only one other person on the street who had no protection against the rain. We stopped, looked at each other and smiled.

It was raining where the fireworks competition was held. We thought there would only be a few crazy people like us who would travel far to watch fireworks in the rain. Hah. What did we know? There must have been a few thousand Japanese spectators who came despite the poor weather conditions.

Tsuchiura station

Tsuchiura station

Understandably the number was less than last year’s, but the train stations and the roads leading to the fireworks grounds were nonetheless crowded. If you hold a fireworks competition in the rain, they will come!

This is just a fraction of the crowd.

This is just a fraction of the crowd.

It’s such a shame, though, that the heavy clouds obscured a large number of the fireworks displays, although the whole sky lit up in solid blocks of colors.

Fireworks obscured by the clouds

Fireworks obscured by the clouds

But, the massive displays called star mine were so bright that they got through the clouds. Overall, we enjoyed the show.

Star mine explosions

Star mine explosions

The rain stopped not long after the fireworks competition ended. I would have preferred it if it continued to rain until I went to sleep, but that’s asking too much. I was still happy, just for the chance to be out in the mizzle.

As you can see, it doesn’t take much to make me happy. Simple things, like running in the rain, are all I need. It’s a cliche, but the best things in life are indeed free and simple. The next time that it rains in your neighborhood, go out and take a shower, splash water when you walk by a puddle, and sing and dance in the rain like Gene Kelly, and experience one of the best days of your life.

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Local festival

When I went out for my walk-run late this morning, I ran past the Tamagawa Sengen Jinja and it was filled with excitement. It turned out that the excitement was due to the shrine’s matsuri (festival). Today, they brought out the omikoshi (portable shrine). This jinja takes out its omikoshi, and local volunteers carry it around the neighborhood, once every 3 years, and today marks the third year. They started at around 8:00 am, and were expected to return to the shrine after sundown.

Portable shrine

Portable shrine

Hoping to catch the end of the festivities, my husband and I went over to the shrine at sunset. The steps leading to the shrine were festooned with lanterns with the character 祭 (matsuri) or festival.  People were paying their respects at the shrine. Below, the street was closed to traffic, and was crowded with revellers.

Climbing the stairs to the shrine

Climbing the stairs to the shrine

Jinja

Jinja

Matsuri

Matsuri

Yukata

Yukata

We arrived just in time to catch the omikoshi carriers in a well-deserved break, before they carried the omikoshi back to the shrine. The omikoshi, although it’s portable, is heavy. I carried one years ago, and my shoulders and upper back were black and sore for more than one week. But it was fun to do it, not just for the experience of carrying the portable shrine, but the  camaraderie among neighbors, sharing the weight of the omikoshi for hours under the sun and sharing sake or beer during breaks. Those carrying the omikoshi can get into a frenzy, which can spill over to the crowd. I managed to speak to some of them. Maybe it’s the charged atmosphere or it’s the sake, but they were so excited to talk about the festival. I wish I had a tape recorder with me.

Carrying the portable shrine

Carrying the portable shrineFrenzy

Frenzy

It was an absolutely delightful afternoon and experience. To cap this lovely day, my husband and I enjoyed the rest of the festivities dining outside our favorite cafe. Since I had an active day, with all the walking and some running, I rewarded myself with Baileys with ice cream.

The shrine was still abuzz when we started our walk home.

Night time

Night time

Diabetic-friendly food at Japanese festivals

My husband and I very recently attended two Japanese matsuri (or festival): the Ome City Matsuri and the Tamagawa Genryuu Matsuri in Kosuge, Yamanashi Prefecture.

IMG_1210 IMG_1249

Like most, if not all, festivals in Japan, food and drinks played a central role in both festivals. After all, what good is a festival if it keeps you starving and thirsty?

Only very picky eaters will have nothing to eat or drink at a matsuri. But what about a diabetic who wants to keep his blood glucose under control, will he have to starve, bring his own food, or settle for a high BG? Nope. A diabetic will have no difficulty finding food that will not send his BG skyrocketing, unless he does not eat meat of any kind.

It is true that most festival food stalls sell high-carb offerings, such as:

  • yaki soba (noodles)
  • grilled corn
  • okonomiyaki (a kind of pancake with various toppings)
  • takoyaki (ball-shaped batter with octopus)
  • choco banana (chocolate-covered banana)
  • cotton candy
  • jaga bata (potatoes with butter)
  • kakigori (shaved ice with colored syrup)
  • crepe
  • taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry with some kind of sweet filling)
  • candy apples, strawberries and other fruits

I ignore them. Well, almost all of them. I sometimes enjoy a small portion of okonomiyaki (that is, I eat the toppings and little of the pancake, and I ask the vendor to put very little sauce), or one or two takoyaki balls. So, what do I eat? Well, plenty.

Japanese festivals are very kind to meat lovers. Among the choices you have are:

  • yakitori (grilled chicken parts on stick)
  • ikayaki (grilled squid)
  • karaage (fried chicken)
  • grilled fish
  • hotateyaki (scallops grilled in butter)
  • sausages and frankfurters

There’s kebab which seems to have increased in popularity over these past few years (I leave the bread untouched). If, like me, you like soup, you can find (during the colder seasons) oden (which consists of various ingredients in soy-flavored broth) and miso tonjiru (miso soup with pork and vegetables). If you are not squirmish squeamish, you can try buta motsu nikomi (simmered pork innards or intestines and vegetables), which I thoroughly enjoyed at the Kosuge festival.

If you are vegetarian, you can always find cucumbers which are widely sold, especially in summer.

See? Japanese festivals offer a lot of delicious diabetic-friendly food. I have never ever left a Japanese festival hungry.

What about drinks? Water and an assortment of teas (by this, I mean unsweetened teas) are always on sale. But alcoholic drinks are a different matter. Beer, in almost limitless supply, is the most popular alcoholic beverage in festivals. You can also find sake but, like beer, it is not low carb. The possible low carb choices are happoshu, a low malt beer, and chu hi, a combination of fizzy lemon or grapefruit juice and shochu. But be careful with chu hi because, depending on which brand and type you pick up, it may not be as low in carbohydrates as you would like it to be. As someone who does not add sugar to her beverages, I find chu hi too sweet for my taste. Do not expect to find whiskey, gin, vodka or good quality shochu. I know because I looked. As I happen not to enjoy happoshu or chu hi, if I want to imbibe, I settle for sake, which I drink slowly and alternate with water or tea. I get the buzz without getting smashed.

So, the next time you stumble upon a Japanese festival, do not despair when you see all the flour- and sugar-based offerings, because you know you will find something suitable.

Enjoy your matsuri.