August is one of the happiest months for people who live in the Chicago area and love Japanese culture. For it’s then that Mitsuwa Plaza holds its annual Bon Festival. Now, the Mitsuwa Bon Festival isn’t as elaborate as a more authentic affair, but it’s still a delight for anyone able to attend.
Before I get into all of the fun things I was able to experience on August 1 at this year’s event, do you know what a Bon Festival is? It’s a three-day celebration in Japan where people honor the spirits of family members who have passed on. To coincide with the event, there’s a carnival with booths, games, special events and the Bon-Odori dance.
Given that Mitsuwa is a store in the Chicago suburbs, this isn’t an extended or lavish affair. Rather, the Mitsuwa Bon Festival is close to the equivalent of Hachigatsu Bon and lasts a single day from 2-8:30pm. Since the temperature was nearly 90 degrees on this particular day, my friends and I decided it’d be best to attend from 2-3:30pm, so we could enjoy the Tsukasa Taiko performance, Shuck Corn Game and Shidokan Karate demonstration. All of the dances were scheduled for later in the day, with some performed by people who had been practicing for weeks and months, and others more general affairs where anyone can join in.
The first thing an attendee would notice is everyone’s attire. People go all out for each Mitsuwa Bon Festival, donning yukata and jinbei. The former is a sort of light kimono, while the latter is a matched set of a patterned top and shorts. There’s even some cosplay each year, as the Kinokuniya book store branch within the plaza holds a costume contest. Those who don’t have the appropriate garb need not despair, because the mask vendor is certain to have something for them.
It’s here that I have an important note. While the Mitsuwa Bon Festival vendor had an assortment of $5 and $7 masks featuring the faces of characters like Pikachu, Hatsune Miku and Jibanyan, these aren’t worn in the manner you’d expect. They may have eye-holes, but it isn’t advisable (or comfortable) to slap them on your face. Instead, you wear them askew on your head, like some sort of hat. In fact, I’m modeling the very fashionable Komasan mask right here. (Yo-Kai Watch, y’all!)
Such fashion adds to the general ambiance of the event, making it even more alluring. Because a Mitsuwa Bon Festival isn’t only about the sights you’ll see. The smells and tastes are of equal importance. Food booths are everywhere, selling things like curry, tonkatsu ramen, gyoza, yakisoba, shaved ice, cotton candy, and even spam musubi. Everything is extraordinarily affordable, and someone could easily procure a full meal for $5. I went with a large, $2.50 serving of yakisoba and $1 iced green tea. (It was delicious, of course.)
The assortment of amusements is the only area in which the Mitsuwa Bon Festival may disappoint visitors. There were only three to enjoy this year. The equivalent of a cork gun shooting game was set up within the entryway of the store, albeit with a suction cup dart gun and paper targets instead of a more traditional setup. A ring toss waited outside, with small trinkets for people whether they won or lost. Both paled in comparison to the big event.
Each year, the Mitsuwa Bon Festival offers a kingyo sukui booth. That is, goldfish scooping. For $3 or $5, people can get 1-3 paper scoops to attempt to collect aquatic companions. It’s one of the most popular places each year, with attendees of all ages trying their best to score a catch. And in case you’re wondering, yes. I tried it. And yes, I managed to catch one fish with my one paddle. (Don’t judge. It’s more difficult than it sounds.)
In short, Bon Festivals are great. If you ever get the chance to attend one, do. The Mitsuwa in New Jersey will be holding its annual event on August 15. If you’re in the area, your opportunity is coming up soon!