Traveling Japan: New Year’s Festival at Yasaka Shrine


If you watch a lot of anime, you may have noticed that festivals are a big deal in Japanese culture and story telling. Just like there’s usually a onsen hot spa episode, a beach episode, or a class field trip episode, the festival at the temple is also one of those staple episodes you find in a lot of anime. So having watched a lot of anime over my lifetime, I wanted to experience the temple festival.


What better time than New Year’s Eve at Kyoto’s Yasaka Shrine? If I had to summarize the whole festival in one word, it would have to be “food”.


I tried to get things I usually wouldn’t eat, but I couldn’t help grabbing a corn on the cob and a stupid but delicious chocolate covered banana. Also, I couldn’t pass up the chance to have some of my favorite mochi in red bean soup.


The little old obasan ladies that were manning that booth did the whole “Don’t you speak Japanese?” thing to me when I tried to buy some with minimal Japanese skills. I guess thanks to my good pronunciation, they were pretty much like “It’s zenzai. Don’t you know what zenzai is?” They didn’t say “Duh” but their faces said it. I forgot to start my conversation with “Do you speak English?” first, and that was the beginning of my downfall in that conversation. It did kind of remind me of a moment I had in Taiwan when I tried to ask what they had at a restaurant using my Taiwanese skills to hide my illiteracy at the time, and the guy was like “Can’t you read the signs behind me?” No I can’t. I’m American.


Of course, I didn’t stick only to things I can have every day in the Los Angeles, and I picked up some big yam fries and seriously fresh squid on a stick.



The most legit thing I ate that night was this concoction of animal parts, starch items, and whatever else is in it. The vendors could tell I was a little wary of the contents as I watched the prepare a big vat of it from scratch, but I’m sure they could also see that I was game to try.


They tried their best to explain it to me, and I tried my best to understand. But mostly, I didn’t know what was in it, but bought a bowl and scarfed it down. It was actually really good, but would have been even better with a bowl of steamy hot rice, mainly because it was pretty flavorful and my palate has gotten really light the last few years.


Next up, Toei Kyoto Studio Park.


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