Monday, April 1, 2013

Cherry Blossom Viewing/Festival, 花見Hanami; 靖国神社 Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo

Over the weekend, we had the chance to do some prime cherry blossom viewing.  Although it was technically a week after full bloom, the cherry blossoms still looked very nice.   It was pretty cold though.  To get to Yasukuni Shrine, you can take the Tozai line to Kudanshita 九段下 and then head up the stairs.  The signs will lead you there.
Here is another picture of the cherry blossoms.  They definitely would have been prettier had the sun been up.  But for me, the true pleasure of viewing cherry blossoms is... drinking and eating all the yummy foods connected with cherry blossom viewing; namely, yatai (屋台) foods!!!  For those of you who don't know, yatai foods are Japanese versions of those food stands from the State Fair or carnivals.  I've heard that the yukuza run the yatai, however, this doesn't prevent the food from being great.  You can see examples of the different types of foods that can be purchased from yatai below.   
This picture features a candy apple stand.
We have okonomiyaki お好み焼き here, which the Japanese call Japanese pizza.  More accurately, okonomiyaki is a big pancake with egg, bean sprouts, meat and green onions.  As to the history of okonomiyaki, I've heard that it was born after World War II when the Japanese didn't know what to do with the flour that was given to them from the Americans.  The flour was just poured on a griddle with other ingredients and voila- okonomiyaki was born! 
We have fish on a stick here.  The entire fish is skewered, salted and cooked.  These fish are called ayu no shioyaki.
We have meat skewers here.
Chicken (dark meat) skewers here.
Goldfish.  Really... These goldfish are not eaten however.  For anywhere from 1-3 dollars, children pay for a little plastic net with a paper net part.  Then they get to try to scoop goldfish into a cup before the paper net breaks in the water.  You might end up with ten goldfish or zero goldfish.  At this yatai, the nets were really weak and I didn't see any winners.  I knew that there was something fishy when the goldfish in the tank were of a much better quality than the usual feeders featured at festivals.  The man running the stand seemed to get pleasure from children failing.  Usually they just let kids keep on trying until a goldfish is caught.  This guy just told the kids to try (and pay) again. 
Chocolate covered bananas.  Covered by smoke too!!!
Cotton candy.
Here is an actual ayu fish from the yatai above.  This happens to be my favorite yatai food.  The bones can be eaten.  This guy was yummy and set me back 500 yen.
Wagyu steak on a stick.  I get this every year and it seemingly has suffered from shrinkage from year to year.  The price has been constant though, 500 yen.  This year seemed to be the least tough.  Maybe the quality of the beef is getting better... yep, that made me feel better already.
Chicken on a stick.  Yeah, this was REALLY good.  It was seasoned with pepper and salt.  Really juicy and bursting with flavor.  This guy was 500 yen also.
Frank on a stick.  Woo hoo this one was yummy too.  The outside was crunchy.  One yatai was selling the franks for 200 yen compared to 300 yen at the other stands.  Can you guess which yatai I chose?
Choco bananas!!!  This one actually was coated with melon-flavored chocolate.  The kiddies loved them.  They were 300 yen a piece.

More than just the beauty of the cherry blossoms themselves, we chose Yasukuni because it has the largest selection of yatai.  We'll definitely be back next year.  I give it 5 meat sticks out of 5 meat sticks for the selection.  As a parting shot, here is a nearby river filled with cherry blossom petals.  And like that, spring was officially here.