What I’ve come to learn about Matsumoto since moving here is that the city seems to just love their huge street festivals. Not even the frigid winter is going to stop them from putting on couple of lively days of merrymaking like at last weekend’s Ameichi, a.k.a the Candy Festival. There are so many things going on during the Ameichi that it’s hard to know where to start!
Of course, it couldn’t be called a “Candy” festival without, well, a lot of candy, so you’ll find many street stalls selling all sorts of traditional Japanese candies called “Fukuame” (good luck candy), candy shaped into popular cartoon characters, and lollipops.
On Nakamachi Street, the Kurassic-kan had its own special market including the “Japan Candy Museum” where all kinds of traditional or craft candies were on display. You could also buy any of the candy from the museum. There were candies made with nuts, carrots, apples, herbs, and other natural ingredients, as well as many types that had been handcrafted by candy craftsmen.
Outside in the Kurassic-kan market, there was a traditional candy sculptor who crafted candy into cute animals right in front of your eyes. One stall had a special kind of soft candy called “taguri-ame,” that you had to twist and tread onto a stick from a large pot!
Another big part of Ameichi are the daruma doll sellers. As I mentioned in other blog posts, daruma are associated with achieving goals so they are often bought at the beginning of the year to represent a new resolution. During Ameichi, there are numerous street stalls that sell daruma in all sizes in colors, so people love to come here and pick out a perfect daruma for themselves.
Besides all the street stalls, there were performances of all kinds going on all over the city including those by several taiko drum groups, the Japan Defense Force marching band, dance groups and more.
One of the most fun parts of the whole festival is the Seven Gods of Good Luck parade. Here, the participants dress up in traditional costumes that represent the aforementioned Seven Gods and walk through the streets with interesting props while passing out good luck candy.
And, you can’t miss all the mikoshi (portable wooden shrines) that get carried around the neighborhoods of downtown Matsumoto during Ameichi! To transport them, two long, wooden poles are put through metal loops on the shrine. Then, several people lift the mikoshi up, resting the poles on their shoulders, and walk down the street. Because the mikoshi aren’t really that big, at first glance, they don’t look that heavy, but for our mikoshi, it took more than 20 people to pick it up and move it! Needless to say, usually all the carriers end up with very sore shoulders the next day.
I actually got to participate in helping transport one of the mikoshi around Nakamachi myself, which was an exciting experience. We all wore a festival jacket called a “happi,” and to keep a good walking rhythm while carrying, every repeatedly chants “washoi, washoi.” To show gratitude to the shops and houses in the neighborhood, we stopped the mikoshi in front of each of their doors and lifted it up and down three times, all the while making a lot of noise by ringing a bell and shouting.
The Ameichi Festival happens every year in January, so keep an eye out on our website’s events page. Also, if you are up for braving the cold, this weekend it the Ice Sculpture Festival! See more info on event page on Facebook.