Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sanja Matsuri, Asakusa

Sunday was warm - a perfect day for a festival! Peter and I went into Asakusa in Tokyo, an older area home to Senso-ji, a large Buddhist temple.

We took the Odakyu line from Fujisawa, taking a little longer than we normally do, but saving 200 yen in the process - that sort of thing really adds up in Tokyo. We got into Shinjuku at about 2 pm, and took a brief detour to check out the Kinokuniya book store, where I picked up a couple of books that you'll see me cooking from in the coming days - "Harumi's Japanese Cooking" and "2-dish Bentos " by - and this is my best guess, apologies, Wu Wen, a Chinese take on bentos. We took another quick detour to Tokyu Hands to stock up on bento necessities for Canadian Bento.

That made us pretty hungry, so we went into the basement at Takashimaya Times Square to look for lunch. Normally we would have just eaten somewhere in the station, but it was such a pleasant day, I thought we could sit out in the little park by the station with something out of the fabulous food shops below the Takashimaya. It's so overwhelming down there - there's literally something for everyone, and it's hard to make a choice, but I settled on a beautiful chirashi sushi that looked as bright as I felt.

After recharging, we got on the Chuo line over to Kanda, and then changed onwards to Asakusa, to see the Sanja Matsuri. When we arrived, the sun was setting beautifully over the Sumidagawa. The main street was roped off, and everywhere, bodies were slumped over drink machines and in alleys. People had the air of quiet, happy exhaustion that spoke of hours of drinking that had begun before noon. We popped into the nearest Family Mart for a beer, and thrust ourselves into the crowd.

This festival involved several portable shrines being toted around on the backs of hordes of happi-clad men, all shouting and stomping together in unison. The smell of sake and beer was heavy in the air. After wandering down a few alleys so Peter could snap some photos, we rounded back towards the temple in time to see one of the shrines being presented. The main lantern that usually hangs over the gate had been raised so the shrines could be carried through. The men stomped and heaved their way towards the gates, with one leader who seemed to direct the movement of the shrine by whim. A few shouts and hand twirls, and the men would heave left. A quick glance and a realization that the crowds were too thick for movement from the head shouter and the men would heave right. The mass of people ebbed and flowed in and out of their way, toddlers and mobile phones aloft to see and capture photos.

Several beers and bare-arsed photos later, we paused for dinner - we had some thought of trying to find an Indian place that a friend of ours had recommended, but the maze of streets around the temple proved too much to navigate, even for Peter. A conveniently located Gyu-Kaku beckoned.

Gyu-Kaku is a chain restaurant which serves yakinikku - a Japanese take on Korean barbecue. Although it kills me to pay for lettuce and kimchi, I know Peter loves it so much that I couldn't say no. We ordered our favourites - squeaky pork (hancheongsal - fatty pork neck), beef galbi (a rib cut), and Peter's ultimate fav - Kalmegisal - cut from the beef diaphragm - it sounds different, but it's incredibly tender and flavourful.

It's all best grilled over hot charcoal, and served with garlic roast in sesame oil, wrapped up in lettuce with a smear of lemon mayonnaise, miso, and a tall, cold draft beer. I thought of my friend Dave, who always says that Japanese draft beer is like "Angels pissing on your tongue", which really sums it up, I think.

After we lurched out of the restaurant, clothes and hair saturated with lovely beef-fat-smoke, we took a turn around the temple grounds, lit up by the lights of festival food booths put up for the occasion.
Roast corn and fish, steamed buns, baked potatoes with butter, yakisoba, okonomiyaki, candied apples and cherries, and chocolate-dipped bananas. We couldn't manage another bite, but cold beer was being sold from deep chests filled with ice, so a couple of Ebisu Golds were dessert.

1 comment:

Canadian Bento said...

Oh my, the Japanese know how to part-tay. Chocolate dipped bananas and candy apples. Woot!