It’s now October, the most festive month in Matsue!

Every month in Japan has a classical name, and October is called Kannazuki (神無月 “the month without gods”) everywhere but the Izumo region, the “Province of the Gods”, where it is Kamiarizuki (神有月 “the month with gods”).

This is because all the kami (gods) gather at Izumo Taisha for their annual meeting to determine people’s fate for the following year–in otherwords, it’s a big En-musubi meeting.

Actually, due to the craziness of the modern Japanese calendar system, calling the entire month of October “Kannazuki” or “Kamiarizuki” is a bit of a misnomer. Technically, it’s only about a week long, and it usually falls shortly after October. For the year Heisei 25, it will be November 12~19, 2013.

While there are religious rituals commemorating the gathering of the gods at Izumo Taisha at this time, the human-oriented events celebrating this air of En in this region usually take place throughout the Gregorian month of October.

Matsue, the capital city of the Province of the Gods, usually has a lot planned. Last year I made it to a handful of events, and this year I’ll be busy with the Dai-chakai (grand tea gathering at Matsue Castle featuring eleven schools of tea) and the Little Mardi Gras parade and ceremony commemorating the 20th anniversary of Matsue’s Friendship City ties with the US city of New Orleans. I’ve made a couple of lanterns for the Suitoro Lantern Festival (which lasts all month), and I’ll probably go to watch the Do-gyoretsu Drum Parade, though I know many foreign residents who are taking part on the drums or flutes.

In the meantime, the streets have echoed with the sound of Do drum practices on weekend nights, as various neighborhoods trade off with their turn to take part in the parade. I remember thinking it was very mysterious when I first it last year on a late August night, but now it when I hear something in the distance, I think, “oh, I wonder which neighborhood it is now? It was Suetsugu last year, maybe this year the sound is coming from Sotonakabara?” A quick detour on my way home brings me closer to the sound, and then I find everyone out with their drums and flutes. Usually, these drums are kept in well-marked garages in each neighborhood, and people are only allowed in those garages under certain circumstances. The participating neighbors are drawn at random, though no neighborhood is allowed to participate two years in a row.

I snapped this picture right after they finished the song and took a break.

I snapped this picture right after they finished the song and took a break.

Speaking of finding festiveness throughout the streets, I noticed a poster for an event coming up at the Kyomise shopping district, home to many of Matsue’s gourmet restaurants.

Kyomise Ikemen

There’s a good pun lurking around every corner. While they aren’t exactly the kind of events that the locals anticipate all year like the Dai-chakai, Suitoro, or Do-gyoretsu, Kyomise puts on a handful of little festivals throughout the year with specialty food stalls. Back in early spring, they had the “Donburi Karakoro” event, which was based on a pun combining donburi (any kind of food served on top of a bowl of rice), karakoro (the sound-effect Lafcadio Hearn used to describe the sound of geta sandals walking down the Ohashi bridge back in the Meiji era, a term which is use to describe both Karakoro Hiroba (square) in Kyomise and Karakoro Art Studio across the canal), and a familiar children’s song about acorns, “Donguri Korokoro.”

The pun in this poster is for the “Kyomise Ikemen Festival,” which is a play on the word for noodles, men, and the slang term for a hot guy, ikemen (ee-keh-mehn, not AIK-men). Oh Japan, you and your puns. Unfortunately I’ll be busy with other events that day and won’t be in Kyomise until the Little Marti Gras live performances at Karakoro Hiroba later that afternoon, but I got enough of a laugh from the poster that I thought I’d share.

When someone visiting me in Matsue says they want to go drink tea, I usually drown them with a list of options for places to go enjoy some wagashi (traditional Japanese confectioneries) and matcha (powdered green tea, the type used in the tea ceremony). To say it has a thriving culture here would be a bit of an understatement.

That said, most places that cater to casual visitors don’t have any expectations of the recipients knowing the formalities of tea or the complex taxonomy of wagashi. They are served as simple hospitality; a way to relax. Usually this takes place within view of beautiful garden or within a tranquil temple, but the weekly Matsue Chafe takes places within an old-bank-turned-craft-fair. Welcome to Karakoro Kobo!

In addition to handmade works and other souvenirs on sale throughout this public gathering space, this place is known for workshops such as making magatama jewels (also a big thing in the Izumo region, worth touching on another day), making silver wedding bands, or making your own wagashi. The Chafe is held every Sunday with two servings of matcha and wagashi for 500 yen, including serving it with the whisk if you’d rather try frothing it up yourself.

The name 茶ふぇ (“Chafe” (chah-feh) ryhmes with the Japanese word for cafe, “kah-feh”) is a play on words, as 茶 means “tea”. Relaxed hospitality is of prime importance to hosts. While there is a seasonally decorated tea room to observe and ladies in kimono preparing the tea in back, guests mingle at benches and tables, and engaged in conversation. This too is a pun: the Japanese word for chatting is しゃべり (shaberi), but they use the term 茶べり (chaberi). Chit-chat or tea-talk, however you want to spin it.

I had my first cup of tea served warm, and it came with a freshly prepared Karakoro wagashi original.

This is a namawagashi, a malleable, moist type typically made with plant ingredients and molded around a sweet, smooth azuki center. They typically come in motifs that mimic nature, and this is based on a loquat, called “biwa” in Japanese. (It just so happens there is similarly shaped lute-like musical instrument with the same name.) They dusted some cinnamon on the end of this wagashi–it was a nice touch that offset the sweetness a bit!

The cup featured good old (or should I say new?) Izumo Taisha.

It is hard to walk into Karakoro Kobo without walking out feeling a little more arts-and-crafty, especially when the hosts come by with bamboo leaves and say, “Let’s make sasabune!”

Tada! It’s a little toy boat. There is a little fountain to float them in, too.

Or you could use them to serve the higashi (dried sweets) with the second cup of tea. I had mine served cold in this crab cup. Ironically, I had spied a bunch of river crabs on my way there that morning.

From now until the end of the rainy season (the end of July), they are holding a special Enishizuku Chafe. Many bars and clubs around town are also participating an Enishizuku Cocktail Collection, offering limited time cocktails on rainy days and sunny days throughout the month of July. My interests lie more in tea than in alcohol… then again, I didn’t become a tea drinker until I was 19–the first time I had matcha it was so bitter I could never imagine growing such a taste for it. Come to think of it, I didn’t develop a taste for coffee until very recently. Maybe my taste for alcohol is coming soon.

Back to the Chafe, I was soon joined by a pair of twin two-year-olds. They were at that cute stage when they’re talking, but with baby-talk pronunciation. When I asked how old they were, they said “Nisshai!” instead of “ni-sai”, and as they shared their second of helping of higashi with me, they said “Oneechan, doJO!” over and over (instead of “Oneechan, douzo”—“Here you go, Big Sister!” It’s so nice when I’m still referred to as ‘oneechan’ instead of ‘obasan’…). What really surprised me was how they drank the matcha with such relish! The bitterness doesn’t bother them at all, and when I asked about the caffeine, their mother laughed and said they’ll still usually go right to sleep. They’re obviously better adjusted than I am.

As if sharing higashi wasn’t cute enough, when I was headed elsewhere I pass by them on one of the many bridges throughout where you can catch a glimpse of the Horikawa Yuuransen, the sightseeing boat that goes through the canals of the castle town all year long. They were waving and shouting things likes, “Where are you going?”.

The passengers on the boat found them just as adorable as I did. By the way, that’s Karakoro Kobo in the background.