25 August 2012: It was a warm summer night in Tokyo. Most of the shops were closing for the day. My sister and I were walking around the Yanaka neighbourhood after dinner when we saw a flurry of activity down a dimly lit street.
We followed some people into what turned out to be a packed street with a temple at the dead end. Most of the women and girls were dressed in the traditional Japanese dress, looking dainty and elegant in their kimonos.
The air was thick with humidity and barbecue smoke. Stationed along one side of the street, the hawkers were making all sorts of Japanese snacks and street food. For instance, there was okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) drizzled with sweet sauce and topped with katsuobushi (bonito flakes), aonori (dried seaweed) and Japanese mayonnaise.
Screams of delight and gay laughter came from the game stalls. Some children were deep in concentration, hoping to hit the bulls-eye to win a coveted prize or to scoop as many little fish to bring home.
Mostly though, it was the intoxicating aromas from the food stalls that kept drawing us deeper into the street. Never mind that we had just had dinner.
Even though we spoke no Japanese, each transaction was swift: Point at what you want, indicate how many pieces or servings with your fingers, then hand over the money.
The further we went, the hotter it felt and the more crowded it was. People were queuing up to enter a temple. Perhaps to pray for good health, top grades and new job prospects?
What were they celebrating? Did it have something to do with the end of summer?
A brief search on the Internet came up with Koenji Awa Odori (高円寺阿波踊り). Traditionally held on the last Saturday and Sunday of August, this major dance festival marks the end of long summer days with plenty of oomph, fireworks and gaiety.
While there was no dancing when we were there, I’m guessing the evening street bazaar followed the energetic dance performances in the day. If you know the answer, please let me know. Arigatou!
These pictures were taken at ISO 1600 with my Fuji x100 and processed with a Technicolor System4 dye Transfer (Technicolor 3Strip) film simulation.