The Matsue Castle Festival started this weekend and will go on through the beginning of April so as to catch the whole sakura season. There were some blooming already, but most of them are still buds. I was just happy that it was the first time I’ve gone out without a coat this year! The castle grounds were bustling with activity, as everyone was out enjoying the weather.

The plum garden is about done with its show for this year…

…but the cherry blossoms are making an early start.

And the samurai are fired up as usual. Watch where you point that thing!

While I was on my way elsewhere and taking an extended detour through the castle grounds, I had a lot more time than I thought I would, so I finally stopped at Herun-no-Komichi (Hearn‘s Little Street–it’s a road he liked to take on his way to work). This is a little shop on the way to the Inari shrine at the northwest entrance to the castle grounds. I had always been curious about it, and on this particular Sunday the universe–especially the weather!–aligned itself in such a way that I felt compelled to stop there for a few minutes.

Besides an array of dango (dumpling) and tea combos, grilled riceballs, and shijimi clam miso soup (a local specialty), you can also get a couple old Izumo favorites: zenzai, which is an azuki (sweet red bean) soup with mochi (pounded sticky rice), or bote-bote cha.

Speaking of Shijimi clams, here are a few! Most of the shijimi clams consumed in Japan come from Lake Shinji, but they aren’t typically this colorful.

Of course, the whole decor was perfectly timed with the seasons–more to come on these featured flowers later.

Not that I was there to see flowers–there were plenty to see outside around town already! Rather, I was summoned by the tantalizing sight of dango. Have you heard the phrase “hana yori dango“? It means “dumplings over flowers”–something practical is worth more than something pretty!

They had a few varities to choose from, including sakura dango coated in a salty miso sauce. Since I was having matcha with mine, I went with a tea flavored one coated in a sweet azuki paste instead. They’re all heated up and coated to order.

That one’s mine!

Flowers may fade fast, but I can’t say the dango lasted very long either. I don’t usually eat dango, but I was in such a mood for it than I got some more at a different shop at the opposite end of the castle as I was passing by again at the end of the day. Herun-no-Komichi’s style is to coat the dango, but other kinds of dango are made with fillings instead.

With all this talk about flowers, I might as well post some of the other pictures I took on Dango-Day. They aren’t necessarily flowers that people time their outings to go out and view when they’re in full bloom, but I enjoyed them all over town anyway. Finally! Spring is here! There will more flower-specific posts to come very soon, though.