Mr. Sato attempts to eat this traditional Japanese sweet for the first time and realizes that it’s not for novices.

The man, the myth, the legend. From tackling giant versions of small foods to scoring the newest iPhone version in mediocre cosplay, there’s no other reporter willing to put his shame name on the line for the sake of quality news coverage than SoraNews24’s very own Mr. Sato.

After recently recovering from the loss of one of his favorite clothing chains in Japan, Mr. Sato decided to cheer himself up by making his annual trip to the Tori no Ichi (Rooster Market). Held over four days every year at Hanazono Shrine in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighborhood (just a short walk from SoraNews24 headquarters), this year the Tori no Ichi festival is being held on is held on November 7, 8, 19, and 20, and Mr. Sato was just in time to visit on the first date.

▼ Morning visitors at Hanazono Shrine’s Tori no Ichi

Since Hanazono Shrine is in the vicinity of Kabuki-cho and a host of other late-night eating and drinking establishments, throngs of Shinjuku workers descend upon the market after work. Sometimes the grounds become crowded to the point that it’s hard to move around. Daytime is definitely the best time to visit if you want to take your time at a leisurely pace, which is exactly the kind of the mood that Mr. Sato was in this particular day. He decided to stroll through the market grounds on his way to work in the morning.

▼ These lanterns bearing sponsors’ names would be illuminated at night.

There’s really only one shopping item for sale at Tori no Ichi: decorative kumade rakes, made by clustering numerous good-luck symbols together in order to to boost your fortune in business. Having come early in the morning, Mr. Sato was able to quickly buy one without the usual hassle of waiting in a long line, but soon one of the food stalls caught his eye. According to the colorful banner, it was selling anzu-ame (あんず飴), literally “apricot candy,” a popular festival sweet in Japan.

He’d heard of anzu-ame before, but no festival stalls had ever sold it in the countryside of Shimane Prefecture where he grew up as a country bumpkin. He’d had a similar-sounding apple candy, but never anything with apricot before. He abruptly decided that this year would be the year to fix this deprivation of his childhood. As he made his way over to the booth, little did he know that the following chain of events would test the very limits of his grown-up ability to buy and eat food on his own. 

First, it turned out that the act of purchasing anzu-ame wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. Anzu-ame was listed as 200 yen (US$1.85) on the stall’s sign, so he pulled out a couple of coins and ordered–at which point the shopkeeper replied, “How many would you like?”

…Huh? What else was there to choose? One serving of anzu-ame is one, right? This system didn’t make any sense!

Confused, Mr. Sato truthfully told the lady that this was his very first time ordering anzu-ame and he didn’t know what she was asking. She said that he could choose one type of fruit from among all of the prepared offerings such as mikan [mandarin orange] and strawberry. It then dawned on him that even though this was technically APRICOT candy, there were more choices than simply apricot. He was a bit miffed at whoever had given it this name. Furthermore, since it was still early and the booth was still in the midst of prep-work, apricot wouldn’t even be a an option until later in the day. There wasn’t anything Mr. Sato could do in the meantime so he asked for the mikan.

Next, while the shopkeeper was preparing his food, she suddenly declared, “Give that thing a whirl.” “That thing”? He looked down and to his surprise, there was a small rotatable container on the counter, and when you turned it over, a single marble would fall out, with a special color winning you a prize.

That’s when he finally realized that the price tag for anzu-ame included a small note that read “Price of one game included.” So THAT’s what that meant! He was then told that if he won the game he could get one more type of fruit for free. Seriously? Why, anzu-ame, why!? Your name is misleading and your order system is so confusing that only experts can order you unscathed!

He unfortunately didn’t win the game, but in any case his food was ready after a short time. A slice of mikan orange was encased delicately inside of a mizu-ame (sweet starch syrup) topping. A thin pick-like utensil also lay alongside it. The lady helpfully provided him with a tip for eating–“Please eat it with that wafer shell (the ‘cup’). If you try biting into it the syrup will stick to your teeth, so it’s better to gradually lick it.”

▼ Finally, here it was–his very first anzu-ame!

When the lady had handed it over to him, she had also said the following: “Normally I leave some ice on that tray over there and you eat it after the syrup chills for a bit, but I haven’t gotten a chance to prepare the ice yet today.” As someone who was eating this for the very first time, her words didn’t make much sense to him. He wouldn’t grasp the full meaning until a little bit later…

Now for the moment of truth. Mr. Sato plopped his things down near the edge of the staircase on the shrine grounds and balanced the wafer cup on his thigh. He felt a fun sense of excitement about trying a traditional sweet for the first time and took more photos than usual while taking care not to knock it over.

▼ The way the syrup glinted in the light was actually quite pretty.

Actually, he should’ve taken a bite sooner because while he was goofing around with photos, bits of the mikan orange had dissolved into the syrup, leaving thin threads of orange swirled throughout:

“Huh? What’s going on? How am I supposed to eat the fruit now?” he thought. Maybe what the lady had been saying earlier about chilling it in ice was in order to avoid this exact sticky situation. The words “It’s better to gradually lick it” echoed in his mind…but he still felt like he was missing something.

It was worth a try, so he licked the syrup. It wasn’t easy to do and stuck to his lips. That was probably wrong, right? But then what was actually right? Is it possible to actually fail at eating something??

But even among Japanese people who eat it every chance, anzu-ame is recognized as a very messy, sticky snack. Mr. Sato wasn’t doing anything wrong, he just lacks experience. Lucky for him, this was just the first of four Tori no Ichi days, so he’s got plenty of opportunities to go back and eat more desserts, all in the name of making himself a more educated, well-rounded member of Japanese society.

Shrine information
Hanazono Jinja / 花園神社
Address: Tokyo-to, Shinjuku-ku, Shinjuku 5-17-3

Photos © SoraNews24
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[ Read in Japanese ]