With spring around the corner, it's that time in Japan when outdoor festivals, like the cherry blossoms, start to bloom everywhere. The winter is generally a hibernation period for what is one of the great joys of living in Japan; festival-going. Hibiya Park in Tokyo’s Chiyoda-ku held the Japan Fisherman’s festival over the weekend (February 3-6), and gave us a literal taste of what’s to come over the next six months or so.
Hibiya Park itself offers a beautiful setting, with stone paths winding around the large pond in the middle, which has water features and trees encircling it. There is also a large band stand next to where festivals are usually held offering something aesthetically different. If you’re in the Tokyo/Shinbashi area in spring, it’s a good place for a bit of sakura spotting as well.
Photo: Sachiho on Flickr
The Fisherman’s Festival featured seafood from top chefs from around Japan, and there was not only food cooked in a Japanese style, but there were also some foreign fish dishes. From boiled crab to fresh sashimi, there was a variety of food to make your belly rumble. For anyone with more than a passing interest in seafood, this was the place to be over the weekend.
The stalls themselves were lined around a smaller pond on one side of the park, with each vendor constantly shouting out, attempting to entice customers to their particular stall. Because of this it had the feel of a fish market. Anyone who’s been down to Tsukiji would have recognised the fast-paced, booming sales pitches you could hear all around the festival.
There were sample pots to be had, one of which being a tasty dried bonito soup covered by the ¥500 yen entry price. Personally, the pick of the food that I tried was a delicious oyster and yakisoba dish on offer at one of the more Japanese style stalls. I regret not starving myself before the festival so that I could have tried more.
Paying for everything was a bit of a novelty. Before entering I handed my money over in exchange for a collection of ¥100 tickets. Prices varied from about ¥300 for one of the cheaper dishes, and up to around ¥1000. The prices were pretty reasonable, and unless you were incredibly hungry (or greedy!) attending the festival didn’t set you back a lot.
The main event was the Fish-1 Grand-Prix competition. The winners, announced on the last day of the festival, were voted for by festival-goers, and there was a pretty mouth-watering selection in both the Pride Fish Cooking Contest and the Made in Japan Fast-Fish-Products Contest. The winner of the former was a bonito sashimi dish that could have won for its beautiful maroon colour alone.
There was more going on than just the preparing and eating of various seafood, however. There was beer on sale, as well as other beverages with at least one stall being dedicated to nihonshu. What could be more Japanese than washing down some fresh fish with a cold Asahi or a Suntory Premium Malt?
The band stand provided the perfect opportunity to host a bit of music. While I was there, there was a solitary J-Pop artist singing her heart out. Over the course of the weekend there were more artists and bands performing on the stage, well after the sun had set as well. Generally around the festival, jazz was being played from various speakers, giving the festival a very chilled atmosphere. Jazz seems to be the go-to music for a lot of events in Japan, and when you see everyone relaxing as they were, you can understand why.
From this month onwards, Hibiya Park will host a large number of festivals. As in every year, it is almost on a weekly basis that something is going on in this park. Next month there is another chance to stuff your face at a local food festival, which has been popular in the past. It is also home to one of Tokyo’s more famous bon-odori (dance) festivals in the summer, and usually a large crowd is attracted to this event.
Hopefully, this festival makes a reappearance next year, and I imagine I’ll be heading down to Hibiya Park fairly regularly until the end of autumn.