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Matsuri (祭?) Is the Japanese word for a festival or holiday. In Japan, festivals are often sponsored by a local shrine or temple, though they may also be secular.
There are no specific matsuri days for all of Japan, changing the dates from one region to another and even within a given one, but they tend to cluster around traditional holidays such as Setsubun or Bon Odori. Almost every locality has at least one matsuri at the end of summer or beginning of autumn, usually related to the rice harvest.
Important matsuri often include processions, in which elaborate floats can participate. Preparations for these processions are usually organized at the level of barrios (machi). Before these, the local deity (kami) can be ritually installed in a mikoshi (portable altar) that is carried in procession through the streets.
You can almost always be in the vicinity of a matsuri stalls selling souvenirs and meals like takoyaki, as well as games like Kingyo Sukui (fishing for goldfish with small paper nets). Karaoke competitions, sumo competitions and other entertainments are often organized along with the matsuri. If the festival is held by a lake, boats can also be rented.
Favorite events of the most popular matsuri, such as Himeji's Nada Kenka Matsuri or Hirosaki's Neputa Matsuri, are often televised throughout the country.
Some examples of famous matsuri are the Jidai, Hadaka Aoi and Gion Matsuri held in Kyoto; Tenjin Matsuri in Osaka, and Kanda, Sannō and Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo. In particular, the Gion Matsuri, the Tenjin Matsuri and the Kanda Matsuri are the three most famous matsuri of Japan that are carried throughout the year the matsuri are realized, that are occasions in which the town meets with the divinities and it celebrates with festivals and processions. There are many throughout Japan and, in addition, served (originally) to synchronize with the four seasons.
Importance of the matsuri
Matsuri is an indivisible part of Japanese society and permeates many of its basic aspects (Plutschow, 1997). For example, they are not only present in sports competitions, such as sumo, or in political life, claiming that they are a vehicle for political change, but also in the traditional Japanese arts or in the acclaimed traditional Japanese literature.
That is why the matsuri can help us to better understand the Japanese culture. The structure and behavior of Shinto festivals extends to the "real world" in such a way that they are literally surrounded by the cultural remnants of the matsuri (Plutschow, 1997). The matsuri embodies the whole of Japanese culture and behavior: they reveal to us both the violent and peaceful nature of the Japanese, their ceremonial behavior, respect and deference, license and severity, hard work and relaxation, making them observers see the industriousness and pure energy of the Japanese.
Although some festivals, especially in large cities, have probably lost some of the religious symbolism from which they emerged (the people's desire to ask for and help the kami) are still in effect thanks to the high mobilization of their participants. Perhaps the desire or need to ask for the kami's favor is no longer as important as it was in the past, but the desire or need to feel part of a community, of a specific group, and act on it accordingly it is especially in modern Japan where many family and traditional ties are sustained by a very fine thread.
While festival practice was severely affected by Allied occupation after World War II, as the Japanese national identity is intertwined with the Shinto religion, it is clear that the matsuri resurfaced with force as a tool to maintain this cultural identity and is this same reason that keeps them active today. They may have lost some of their original religious symbology, but they remain a Shinto practice. And if Shintoism is deeply rooted in Japanese culture and society, it is normal practice, the matsuri, too.
The typical food of the festivals
Among the different types of food that we can find in the matsuri the most popular is the sōsu food, a term that comes from the English sauce and refers to the dark and viscous sweet and sour sauce that is used to season various food recipes . An example of this food would be the takoyaki, the okonomiyaki, or the yakisoba.
Anyway, in the matsuri we can also find regional specialties that can be tasted in small doses, as aperitif or tapa. Below we see some of the most common dishes of the matsuri.
- Takoyaki octopus fritters
- Fried noodles yakisoba
- Okonomiyaki cake
- Skewers yakitori
- Fried chicken karaage
- Squid yaki-ika
- Yaki-tomorokoshi yolk
- Jaga-batá potatoes
- and much more
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