Aomori #4: Garlic (にんにく)

Aomori is the number one producer of garlic in Japan, and you can find Aomori-grown garlic at supermarkets across the country. In fact I usually always buy Aomori garlic because while there are usually fewer cloves on a head, they are very big and therefore easy to use for cooking!

Along with regularly grown garlic Aomori also produces fermented “black garlic”, a milder variety whose growth is a closely guarded secret among its producers. Apparently this kind of garlic has a lot of health benefits, and is preferred by people who find the usual white garlic variety too strong. As a lover of garlic myself, I love regular white garlic, so I’ve never tried black before, but I’ve seen it in stores. Maybe the next time I catch sight of it I’ll get some and post how it is!

Aomori #5: Tsugaru Shamisen (津軽三味線)

Aomori’s fifth postcard features a man playing the Tsugaru Shamisen. Shamisen is a traditional Japanese instrument with three strings, adapted from a similar Chinese instrument introduced around the 16th century. You can read more about this instrument here. Tsugaru is a style of instrument and playing that originated in Aomori, and grew popular throughout Japan. Read more about the genre here.

I visited Aomori several years ago, but I didn’t know about its connection to the shamisen at that point, so I didn’t pay attention to anything shamisen-related. However I’ve attended a concert of the renowned Yoshida Brothers, who play in Tsugaru style, and it was simply fantastic! I can’t give enough praise to them and their amazing music! I recommend watching a few of their videos… my favorite songs of theirs include Kodo, and a collaboration they did a few years back with Monkey Majik called Change. It’s mostly sung in English, and is a really catchy song (and great for post-writing!)

A few pictures from the Yoshida Brothers concert about 6 years ago… please excuse the poor quality. This was back in the point-and-shoot days!

Program for their Ibuki tour

Shamisen shadow

…technically pictures weren’t allowed, so I didn’t take any of the brothers themselves. Just note, the concert was really great!

If you’re interested in shamisen, there is a lot of opportunities in Japan to learn about and listen to this fantastic instrument! In Aomori, of course, there is the Tsugaru Shamisen Kaikan in Goshogawara, which has daily performances. In Hirosaki, a few izakaya (Japanese-style bars) in the area have performances as well.

In Tokyo, there are occasional performances at the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Unfortunately, it’s closed for renovations through March, so information on upcoming performances isn’t reliable. However, if you’re in Tokyo and are interested in shamisen performances, please email/message me and I will help you find some for your dates if it is when the Museum is closed.

And of course, throughout Japan whether the Tsugaru style or others, there are many chances to listen to shamisen. Please give this amazing instrument a try!

Tohoku Sandai Matsuri Part 2: Aomori #2 – Nebuta Matsuri (ねぶた祭)

Next up in our exploration of the Tohoku Region’s Sandai Matsuri is Aomori. If you missed it, I already posted about Akita here.

Aomori has two festivals of a similar name: Aomori City’s Nebuta festival, the most famous of the two, and the lesser known but still interesting Neputa Matsuri held in Hirosaki. Some people get Nebuta and Neputa mixed up, but while they are similar festivals, there are some differences. However I’m not here to talk about that; instead, let’s visit Aomori’s Nebuta Matsuri. This is a fun festival for two reasons. First, the giant floats that are amazing and creative 3D masterpieces usually of Japanese legends, folk tales, and gods. You could even see a float of the battle of Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, which I talked about in this post. These floats are pulled by a large team of men, who go forward and back, up and down, with ease despite what these things must weigh! It is a delightful sight.

The second reason is that anyone with a costume can join in. You can buy the costume all over Aomori leading up to, and even minutes before the festival. Then, just join a group! I didn’t participate this year (I was wearing yukata), but if I ever visit again, I’ll definitely pin a few dozen bells on my costume, and get in line! It looked really fun!

Crowds of both spectators and participants spill into the streets before the festival, giving the city a joyful energy.

But the amazing floats are the main draw

Getting close to the spectators on the sidelines

The detail is truly breathtaking!

The Nebuta Matsuri is held August 2nd to 7th, in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture.

Next up is Miyagi’s Sendai Tanabata Matsuri.