By Donald Ash | Articles


Last weekend I had the chance to check out Matsuri Tsukuba.  First off, what does Mastsuri (まつり) mean, anyway?  Although I’m still learning as I go, Matsuri is the Japanese word for festival.  Every year, in late August, Tsukuba holds it’s Summer Festival.  From what I understand, most of the Japanese festivals are tied to changes in seasons (as farming is deeply rooted Japanese culture).  In nearly every area in Japan, there is a major festival that happens during the summer, and no two places will celebrate the same way or at the same time:


It’s about 6:45pm, August 29th, 2010…Sunday night.  There is a gentle breeze teasing to disperse that all-too uncomfortable, lingering humidity that remains from another hot, Japan day.  The thick, humid air traps the delightful smells of Japanese cuisine…takoyaki (たこやき)*…okonomiyaki (おこのみやき)**…yakitori (やきとり)***…yakisoba***(やきそば)…and any other “yakis”**** you can think of.  The streets surrounding Tsukuba Center are filled with hundreds of sweating people…some gracefully glistening…others just plain dripping…but all of them smiling.  There are strikingly beautiful Japanese women dressed in traditional yukatas (ゆかた), light cotton robes worn in the summer.  Despite being bigger than almost everyone around me, I am now a part of this surf of people.  I just let go, relax, and flow with current of the crowd.  I don’t mind, I don’t have to work tomorrow. I drift to a corner with a great view and wait for a while, listening to everything, trying to see how much Japanese I can comprehend.  In distance I hear the rhytmic, clicks, clacks, and booms of taiko (たいこ) drums…it’s getting louder…they’re coming this way!

As the drums get closer I see they’re leading the most stunning floats I have ever seen.  These floats look as though they’ve taken forever to make.  Intricate? Beautiful? Powerful? I don’t really have the words to accurately describe them.  As they move they seem come to life; I am entranced.  My eyes are fixed on a dragon, breathing his last, vaporous breaths after being pierced by skillful swordman’s katana (かたな).  I am hooked, anticipating the next of the amazing Aomori floats in a fantastic parade…

*-a savory, pancake-like with a mixture of many different ingredients like shrimp, cheese, octopus, cabbage, noodles… **dish-delicious, grilled octopus dumplings. ***-hearty, skewered, barbecued meat. ****yaki means grilled or cooked.


I am so amazed at how, even though I’ve been in Japan for close to three years, there are moments that make me realize how far away from home I am, and how different life really is.  I appreciate moments like these because it’s confirmation for me that living and working in Japan has been time well spent.

Donald Ash


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of thejapanguy.com blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.