I always wanted to go to a Natsu Matsuri and since I’m not in Japan, I decided to check out Chicago’s annual festival!
I wasn’t sure what to expect but I sure didn’t expect the festival grounds to be so crowded. It was hosted in the middle of New City shopping center! This event was hosted by Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya (which was having their grand opening at the time of the festival) and the Chicago’s Japanese Culture Center.
Admission into the festival was completely free. You could walk around, look and interact with most tents without spending money!
I’m sure you’re wondering about food, beverages and merch! For this festival, they used tickets to purchase food and beverages. They had the following deals:
- 5 tickets: $10USD
- 12 tickets: $20 USD
- Limited Edition 2018 Masu cup with 15 tickets included: $40USD
They also had the following festival merch:
- Limited Edition 2018 Event T-shirt: $12USD
- Limited Edition 2018 Event Tote: $10USD
- Limited Edition 2018 Masu cup: $20USD
| Gyoza (dumplings)|
Takoyaki (octopus batter balls)
Potato Croquettes (fried batter potatoes)
Karaage Chicken (Japanese style fried chicken)
Agedashi Tofu (deep fried tofu)
Pork Chasu Don (braised fatty pork)
Gyudon (rice with beef, sometimes with eggs & noodles)
Hiyashi Chuka (Chinese style noodles)
Edamame (sauteed/boiled beans in a pod)
Spinach Gomae (boiled spinach salad)
Japanese Chicken Wings
Rishi Tea (Matcha)
|Rishi Tea (Sparkling)|
If you’ve never had Royce chocolate, it’s a brand of Japanese chocolate and it’s the best chocolate in the world! This is my third time tasting the matcha Royce chocolate. These chocolates are super expensive chocolate in the US compared to in Japan.
Rishi Tea is a popular tea brand from Wisconsin and they provided their new sparkling tea for tasting. You could take as many as you wanted to try.
There was also a variety of merchants, promoters and performances:
Though the Anime Cosplay Contest was very short, some of the cosplays were real cool and detailed. My top favorites were Albedo from Overlord and Tokoyami from Boku No Hero Academia (My Hero Academia). Though I didn’t get to see them, there were more performances that were supposed to take place at the festival such as Aikido, Karate, Taiko Drumming, and many others.
I also saw this amazing Sumi-e painting done with a large brush! At first I thought it was a rooster but looking at it again, it looked like a hawk flying.
Some of the promoters I saw were recruiters of Japanese language programs, travel agencies offering specials to Japan, and martial arts schools near Chicago area. There was also a photo booth and a video game developer with beta testing station of his Japanese inspired game. Kizuki Ramen & Izakiya was there with pinball machines for guests to play with to earn coupons to the grand opening of their restaurant.
Several other merchants were there selling Japanese trinkets like ceramics, jewelry and candy. I also found a Kimono seller with a tent called Ohio Kimono and another seller of handmade kawaii accessories. Kinokuniya Bookstore was there as well, offering a nice selection of anime accessories and manga. Not part of the festival but still worth mentioning, in Kinokuniya’s main store in Mitsuwa Marketplace, were promotions for Animate’s My Hero Academia Pop Up Shop! The standies were super cool!
It was fun walking around and seeing what the festival had to offer but it was time to try some of the food! Finding good takoyaki can be hard, believe it or not. I took this chance to savor the takoyaki. I bought the 12 ticket special and got 3 plates of takoyaki. Each plate cost 2 tickets and came with 3 takoyaki’s the size on pong balls.
With the rest of my tickets, I took several shots of sake. Most shots were 1 ticket. Like any other alcohol, the price for a shot went up depending on what region in Japan the sake was from, how popular it was and of course, the quality. The most expensive shot I took was sake with ice cream. Yes, you read that right! They scooped a spoonful of ice cream into a shot cup and poured sake right on top. It tasted like a smooth and creamy sake (a bit like nigori -濁り酒).
I’m sure you’re all wondering how were the festival grounds! Like most festival and fairs, it was crowded. The lines were so long that one minute I was trying to get to the other end of the festival and then the next I was in line for hiyashi chuka.
If you frequent events like this, they’re typically packed with people and there’s always a line for something. However, you can tell when a festival space is too small for the amount of people going through it. I’m sure since it was their first festival it was hard to tell how many people would attend. I really hope if they host the festival next year that they pick a bigger space and make it 3 days long.
Would I go again? Definitely.
I enjoyed the food but what really impressed me was the sake tasting. There were so many different varieties and I loved the fact that they had information about each sake. I hope that at they hold different Japanese festivals in the future. I would personally love to see a Tanabata Festival or a Moon Harvest festival.