Since the clock turned midnight last night to mark the beginning of 2014, millions of Japanese have been flocking to temples and shrines throughout the country to offer their prayers for a good year. If you go to one of the major religious sites here in Tokyo, such as Zojoji near Tokyo Tower or Meiji Jingu next to Harajuku, you will see an impressive annual exercise in mass crowd control. In almost clockwork fashion, wave upon waves of people are cycled through to the heart of the temple/shrine, where they throw a coin into a collector (five or fifty yen coins are considered the luckiest), pray, and go on their merry way.
Of course, after spending so much time standing in line, you end up getting a little hungry. That’s why there are usually food stalls set up at major shrines and temples.
For the most part, it’s the standard street food that you find at festivals (matsuri) throughout the year in Japan. At Hie Jinja in Akasaka this morning, we saw the ubiquitous yakisoba, okonomiyaki (Hiroshima and Osaka styles served at separate stalls), takoyaki (octopus fritters), grilled whole fish on a stick, and karaage (Japanese style fried chicken). One stall served food from Miyagi prefecture in northeastern Japan, which included ground beef tongue shaped into a sausage that is grilled and served in a tasty, sweet sauce.
The one unique thing that is sold at certain stalls this time of year is amazake (甘酒), a milky drink that is made from fermented rice and served warm. I often compare it to egg nog, an item that I usually see only when the weather turns cold and particularly during the holiday season. Amazake is usually a non or low alcohol drink, but a couple of years ago, I had some at Hie Jinja that definitely had a stronger kick to it than usual. Unfortunately, they were not serving that stuff this year.
Later in the day, I went to Meiji Jingu which had even more impressive food stalls. There were far more of them serving a much larger variety of stuff. It was like a big street food festival. So in addition to the usual yakisoba and okonimiyaki, there were stalls selling grilled meat, Chinese style meat buns, abura soba (a soup-less “oil” ramen), stews, tonkatsu and croquets, Korean dishes, Brazilian barbecue, churros, and much much more.
What a great way to kick off the new year — with lots of good food and drink! I’m looking forward to bringing you more delicious adventures in the months ahead.