February in Matsue means it’s time to feast, in the “let’s go gourmet!” sort of sense. Throughout next month, Matsue will celebrate its 13th annual Matsue Dan-Dan Shoku Festa. The name is a pun, so let’s delve into linguistics for a moment:

まつえ暖談食フェスタ
まつえ is “Matsue” written in phonetic hiragana instead of in kanji, as usual (松江).
暖 is “warmth” and read here as dan.
談 is “conversation” and read here as dan. Pairing them together is like “warm conversation” and sometimes people translate the name of the festival as “heart-warming.”
だんだん, Dan-Dan, is Izumo dialect for “thank-you,” one of the most commonly heard and actively used Izumo phrases.
食 is “food/eat” and read here as shoku.
フェスタ is short for “festival.”

So you could call it anything from “Matsue Festival for Food That Brings About Warm Conversation” to “Matsue Thanks-For-The-Warm-Food Festival” but I find “Dan-Dan Shoku Festa” is most catchy.

There will be gourmet events going on at hotels and restaurants throughout the city throughout the month, but the three “Dan-Dan Gochisou Ichiba” (Dan-Dan Feast Markets) are the most bustling with activity and variety. In addition to food stalls common at events throughout the year or that come from out of town specifically for this food festival (from as far as Miyazaki Prefecture, given the Kojiki myth connections!), you can expect live entertainment and visits from local characters like Shimanekko, the mascot of Shimane Prefecture fighting in the top ten spots for mascot of the year so several years but still has not quite made #1 (keep at it, Shimanekko! Your dance is the best!).

This is a photo from a different event, but I see these guys a lot and thought their product was tasty. Meat-wrapped rice balls aren’t unique to the San’in region, but these “Niku Maki En-Musubi” are made with Shimane beef and Shimane-grown rice. This is also a pun: Niku (meat), Maki (wrapped), Musubi (a term for rice balls), En-musubi (see below).

I’ll bet the Matsue Young Warriors will be there again. They’re always coming up with seasonal shows and displays, and last year they taught the crowd about Matsuba crabs. Even outside of a busy event with lots of visitors from out of town, it feels very normal to see a samurai sitting in your local JR station.

This year, the Feast Markets are on the following Sundays:

February 1:
10:30am – 3:00pm, in front of JR Matsue Station

February 8:
11:00am – 3:00pm, Kyomise shopping area, Minami-Tonomachi shopping area, and Karakoro Art Studio (north of the Ohashi River and southeast of Matsue Castle)

February 15:
11:00am – 3:00pm, Tenjinmachi shopping area and Tatemachi shopping area (Near Tenmangu Shrine, sort of between the JR station and the Shimane Art Museum)

The homepage is in Japanese, but you can see more details and maps here.

One of the (literally) biggest things visitors and locals alike anticipate is the “En-Musubi Hot Pot of the Seven Gods of Fortune.” The first year, I was not fortunate enough to be one of the 800 people served from this enormous hot pot, but last year I certainly felt lucky to get there in time. They certainly do not skimp on the seafood!

Photo from the Dan-Dan Shoku Festa Facebook page (click photo for source).

Speaking of seafood, this year the “Buri-shabu” at the Feb 1 market has my name on it. There is also a month-long crab event going on, but that requires special reservation, and we’ll talk more about crabs in the next entry anyway.

Besides the hot pot, there are plenty of other specials making liberal use of the catchphrase “En-musubi.” It’s been a while, so let’s break this phrase down again:

縁結び (sometimes written phonetically as えんむすび)
縁, en, is a phrase translated in many ways, but often loses its nuance when translated. It can be any kind of tie of fate or relation, be it between romantic pairs, friends, business partners, or even your relationship with Mother Nature. Used like “I have en with that person” as opposed to “that person is my en.” People pray for good en, but this is more about relations and encounters rather than generalized luck (運, un).
結び is a noun based on the verb 結ぶ (musubu, to bind or tie).
Therefore, 縁結び is like “binding fates” or “ensuring good encounters” but often given the rather limiting translation of “match-making.”

En-musubi is a big San-in catch phrase for many reasons based in local mythology, but especially because Izumo Taisha is where the gods throughout Japan gather to discuss En-musubi each year, which is kind of a big deal.

And since En-musubi is applied in any way possible here, of course it applies to food–sometimes in clever ways like in the case of zenzai, but at other times just by creating a lunch special and calling it the En-musubi plate.

Besides those various February En-musubi specials, there will be a sweets market at the first Feast Market with an En-musubi theme as well. That’s got my name on it, too.

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