What your favourite Japanese summer festival food says about you

japan festival food yakisoba

During the hot months of July and August, summer festivals (夏祭り natsu matsuri) are held all around Japan where celebrations take shape in the form of mesmerising dances (Awa Odori, Hanagasa Festival), impressive decorations (Nebuta Festival, Tanabata Festival), and spectacular fireworks (Sumida River Fireworks Festival, Nagaoka Fireworks Festival).

 

Japan summer festival
Photo by Pakutaso

 

Apart from donning the yukata (浴衣) to celebrate the festivities, the next best thing about these summer festivals is the stretch of food stalls called yatai (屋台) available at the festival grounds. These yatai offer a wide variety of delicious traditional foods and snacks that are perfect for the season, from popular classics like yakisoba and kakigori, to modern twists like cotton candy and hotdogs. Ever wondered what your favourite Japanese summer festival food says about you? Read on to find out what these 10 popular matsuri foods are all about!


1. Yakisoba (焼きそば)

japan festival food yakisoba
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Traditional, practical

Yakisoba are stir-fried wheat noodles with vegetables, meat (usually pork), and typically sweet and savoury sauce such as worcestershire sauce. This is a classic matsuri food that will hardly go wrong. If yakisoba is your favourite, you are someone who values tradition and enjoys comfort foods. You are also practical, seeing as you would lean towards a meal that will be both filling and satisfying.

 

2. Kakigori (かき氷)

japan festival food kakigori
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Cool-headed, Sweet tooth

Did you really step foot into a matsuri without having had kakigori? Kakigori is a shaved ice dessert that is served with various flavoured syrups and even condensed milk, and sometimes sweet toppings like red bean paste or fruit. If kakigori is your favourite, you have a sweet tooth and enjoy indulging in the sweet treats in life. You're likely someone who knows how to keep their cool when the heat is on, especially in Japan’s sweltering summer.

 

3. Takoyaki (たこ焼き)

japan festival food takoyaki
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Adventurous, curious

Originating from Osaka in West Japan, takoyaki are savoury, round-shaped batter balls filled with pieces of octopus, ginger, and green onion. They're topped with takoyaki sauce (typically worcestershire sauce), mayonnaise, seaweed, and bonito flakes. Outside of Japan, takoyaki is seen as a unique and distinct snack, so takoyaki fans are known to be adventurous and curious individuals, especially when it comes to exploring different cultures and cuisines.

 

4. Yakitori (焼き鳥)

japan festival food yakitori
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Sociable

Yakitori are grilled skewers of chicken, often seasoned with tare sauce or salt, and sometimes accompanied by vegetables, and is best paired with a glass of ice cold beer. Yakitori shops are abundant all across the country, so if you fancy some yakitori during a summer festival, you are someone who is sociable, most likely the life of the party, and enjoys the company of family and friends.

 

5. Taiyaki (たい焼き)

japan festival food taiyaki
Photo by 写真AC

What it says bout you: Nostalgic with a playful side

Taiyaki is another classic in Japanese summer festivals. They are fish-shaped (tai is sea bream in Japanese) pastries filled with sweet fillings like red bean paste, custard, chocolate, or sweet potato. If taiyaki is your favourite summer festival food, you are nostalgic and are likely to have a playful side.

 

6. Wataame (綿飴) / Cotton Candy

japan festival food cotton candy
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Whimsical, carefree

Wataame, or cotton candy, are large fluffy clouds of spun sugar that are a common sight in festivals not just in Japan, but also all around the world! Available in various flavours, colours, wataame also comes packaged in your favourite cartoon or anime characters. Similar to those who enjoy taiyaki, wataame lovers are not afraid to embrace their inner child. You are a little whimsical, with a joyful and carefree spirit that appreciates a balance of fun and sweetness in life.

 

7. Dango (団子)

japan festival food dango
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Easily contented

Dango are chewy rice flour dumplings coated in sweet soy sauce (typically mitarashi sauce) or kinako (roasted soybean flour) powder. As a dango lover, you are likely to enjoy things that have a comforting familiarity. You appreciate life’s simple pleasures and have a taste for traditional treats that have a soft spot in your heart.

 

8. Tomorokoshi (とうもろこし) / Corn on the Cob

japan festival food corn
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Down-to-earth

There is nothing quite as satisfying as the crunch of a sweet summer corn on the cob. Tomorokoshi is corn that is typically steamed, grilled, or roasted and then brushed with either soy sauce or butter for flavour. A classic summer festival snack that could never go wrong. If you’re a corn on the cob fan, you have a down-to-earth attitude. As someone who appreciates the authentic flavours, you find joy in life’s natural offerings.

 

9. Karaage (唐揚げ)

japan festival food karaage
Photo by Pakutaso

What it says about you: Easy-going, likeable

Karaage are deep-fried chicken pieces that have been seasoned and marinated in soy sauce, ginger, and garlic, resulting in flavourful and crispy bites. As a festival snack, karaage is easily a crowd-pleaser—it is delicious, versatile, and easy to consume. Similarly, if karaage is your favourite matsuri snack, apart from being a fan of bold flavours, you are someone who is easy-going, sociable, and likeable amongst your peers.

 

10. Somen (そうめん)

japan festival food somen
Photo by 写真AC

What it says about you: Optimistic

Last on our list, somen are t​​hin wheat noodles served cold that is best enjoyed during the hottest of summers. Nagashi somen is a popular summer activity, where somen noodles are placed on bamboo poles with flowing water, and you would have to catch them with chopsticks. As a fan of somen, when everyone else around you is complaining about the unbearable heat, you are someone who sees the refreshing and light side of summer. You enjoy experiences that are both comforting and invigorating!

 

omiyage snack box
Photo by JAPAN RAIL CLUB

Did we at least get some of these right? Of course, these light-hearted interpretations are just for fun—ultimately, how you enjoy various festival foods doesn’t necessarily define your personality! In any case, these are just a few examples of the delicious foods you might encounter at Japanese summer festivals. Each prefecture and festival might have its own specialties, so it’s worth exploring the local offerings for a culinary adventure!

Speaking of exploring, how about subscribing to a monthly snack box with JAPAN RAIL CLUB? Every month, a box of omiyage from Japan will be shipped to your doorstep, and that’s just one of the many ways to find out what your new favourite Japanese snack might be!

Meet the author

Sue Lynn

Currently based in Tokyo, Sue Lynn first came to Japan as a university exchange student. With 6 years of experience in Japan's inbound tourism, she is familiar with Japan, particularly on rail passes and East Japan spots, and has a passion for travelling.

Sue is also passionate about Japan's thrifting culture, and is keen to uncover more hidden gems while visiting all 47 prefectures during her stay in Japan.

Sue's 5Cs are cats, cameras, cinema, climbing, and city pop. Ask her about how her favourite JR Pass (JR TOKYO Wide Pass) saved her life (and wallet).

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