This Weekend: Japanese Food and Culture at AZ Matsuri

The Arizona Matsuri means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. 

To the teens obsessed with anime and J-Pop, it's a chance to dress up in Harajuku-style finery or Cosplay get-ups inspired by cartoon characters. Traditionalists bust out the kimono, yukata, or even reproduction samurai armor. Some folks plant themselves in front of the main stage and take in all manner of music and dance performances, while others stick to the martial arts stage. And many attendees come ready to shop, wandering the vendor booths to check out clothing, toys, books, crafts, and more.

But the common denominator is food. Everyone shows up hungry, and there's always a lot of action around the row of food vendors (which is also quite the place to see and be seen). 

Several restaurants sell hot-off-the-grill yakitori and yakisoba, sushi, and obento lunches. Asahi Beer is sponsoring a beer garden both days. The Arizona Buddhist Temple brings fresh, handmade daifuku (soft mochi balls filled with sweet bean past), while Arai Pastry (a Tempe-based Japanese bakery used by chef Nobuo Fukuda at Nobuo at Teeter House) sells freshly made buns, cakes, and other sweets. 

My advice? Go for an early lunch, before the lines get too long, and if you see ramune soda for sale, try that instead of the usual American soft drinks.

And speaking of Fukuda, he'll have his restaurant open for business during Matsuri hours, with a beer garden out front featuring Japanese beer and sake, and the regular lunch menu available inside.

The Matsuri is free, and runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, at Downtown's Heritage & Science Park. The new Saturday evening Yo Matsuri, from 5 to 8 p.m., will feature beer, food, karaoke, and awa odori dancing

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