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Come shake your Bon-Bon!

No, seriously.
Summer’s the season for festivals in Japan and if you check on the Events Calender there’s a huge one coming up at the end of the month. It’s time for Matsumoto Bon Bon!
This event shuts down central Matsumoto as hundreds of residents fill the streets to dance. It’s a good excuse for everyone to get outside and drink and revel (but being Japan, revel safely – this is definitely a kid-friendly event).
The festival lanterns went up on all the main streets over Marine Day weekend and Bon-Bon fever has been subliminally planted into everyone’s heads through constant replay of the Bon-Bon theme at grocery stores, shops, and from humming coworkers. I saw a couple groups practicing their dance routine over the weekend – we’re gearing up for a great festival, so definitely come join us this Saturday!

Ondekoza at Matsumoto Castle!

If you’re in the area and didn’t have a chance to check out the Taiko Festival yesterday, make sure to check out the last day on Sunday! I watched most of Saturday’s festival, and it was amazing. All of the groups were spectacular (or just darn cute, as was the case with a couple of all-kid teams).
Definitely not to be missed was the guest pro team, Ondekoza. Not only was the playing exceptional, but they threw in a lot of humor too – and you didn’t need Japanese to understand it. The performance on Saturday featured a fight between shakuhachi (Japanese flute) vs. drum vs…kendama?! (kendama – a child’s toy) It was a rhythm war that was both hilarious and incredible. You’ll have to see it to believe it – I think it was my favorite performance of the whole day. They also used some unique tools and styles of playing, such as hitting bamboo drums, playing while doing sit-ups, and playing with what appeared to be the sticks used to beat out futons. They’ll be playing again on Sunday from around 7:45pm, but show up early if you want to try to get seats – despite the rain today, the seating was full by about 7.
If you saw Saturday’s performance and there were some groups that you really loved, you might be able to check them out again on Sunday. The groups are basically switching stages, with some groups from Saturday’s evening performance playing in front of Parco and the groups who played in front of Parco moving to the Castle Stage for Sunday (plus some additional groups).

Fundoshi! Muscled Buns of Steel! Big Drums!

That’s right, it’s time for the 22nd Annual Matsumoto Taiko Festival!
Nineteen teams from all across Japan will be playing this weekend around Matsumoto Castle. On both days there will also be a massive performance by multiple teams playing a single song at once, and some unique drumming featuring a style of taiko that involves playing on bamboo.
Here’s the basic schedule:
7/25 (Sat)
13:30 – 15:50: Various taiko performances in front of Parco
16:30 – 21:00: Taiko Festival at Matsumoto Castle!
7/26 (Sun)
13:30 – 15:50: Various taiko performances in front of Parco
16:30: Taiko Festival start
19:45: Special Performance by Ondekoza (watch out for fundoshi, a kind of traditional underwear. And also a REALLY HUGE DRUM)
20:45: Special Multi-team performance
21:00: End
I’m a member of the Kojyo Taiko team, a local Matsumoto group! Everyone’s been preparing for months, so it’s going to be a great event! If you’ve never seen taiko before, you should definitely come. You can feel the sound from the large drums vibrate through your bones! Come over and check it out!

A Karakuri Orange

Did you know that the figurines in Matsumoto’s famous giant karakuri clock change? I didn’t!
Of course I have seen the giant clock spin open and whirl its mechanical figures before, but I always thought that they were permanent parts of the machine! In the past year, I’ve only seen a mechanical marching band turning around the ball’s center, but yesterday when I was riding past the clock, it opened and there were many figures of children dressed in kimono and playing with Matsumoto’s famous temari balls.
If you’re in the area and happen to be walking past the clock when it strikes on the hour, check and see who is dancing around the ball now!

Sakura Fish?

The sakura aren’t in full bloom yet at the castle – most of the trees are covered in buds and only a few have started to bloom. Give it another week or two and we’ll be swimming in blossoms!
Japan is a very season-oriented culture, and nowhere is that better expressed than in the food. Since spring is all about sakura, you can find sakura-flavored treats in every shape and form from the traditional to the modern – manju, tea, chocolate and even ice cream.
My favorite recent discovery is Sakura-An (sakura and white bean paste) Taiyaki. Taiyaki are made by baking a pancake-like batter in a fish-shaped mold. The filling is usually made of red bean paste, but nowadays people put all kinds of flavors inside like chocolate, custard, or green tea.
Taiyaki Shop
You can get the “Sakura-an”-filled Taiyaki at the Taiyaki shop near Yohashira Shrine on Nawate street. It has a super sweet, thick, almost cinnamony taste. The store will keep carrying the flavor through “sakura season,” but that pretty much seems to mean “until we run out of bean paste.” Usually the store offers new flavors every month or so.
Another current spring offering on sale is Yomogi-An (Mugwort and white bean paste) Taiyaki. You can find mugwort EVERYWHERE around Nagano-ken, usually by the roadsides. A favorite children’s food project is to gather up the leaves, wash them, boil them, and make Yomogi-dango (rice dumpling on a stick) or mochi (rice cakes).


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