Sunday, July 13, 2008

Summertime Fun at the 2008 Bridge USA Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival)!

2008 marks the 13th Anniversary for the Bridge USA Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival) being held in Torrance, California. Bridge USA publishes a "Japanese Info-Tainment Magazine" and while being a So Cal native, I've managed to miss the last 12 Summer Festivals somehow. (^_^;

This year, however, I finally remembered when the Summer Festival was happening and was determined to finally make the event. :) I was curious how Bridge USA's version would be, since it seems to be the only one that charges an entrance fee ($5 for adults, $3 for children), but it's also celebrating its 13th Anniversary for the event, so it must be doing something right. We arrived at the event, and the parking lot was already full; this was a huge turnout compared to other local Natsu Matsuris.

In Japan, the Natsu Matsuri is a wonderful time out with family and friends, sort of like a Japanese "County Fair" of sorts, with booths focusing mainly on games or food. And as we entered the main area, there were the requisite booths for games, such as balloon grabbing and goldfish catching.

There was one group putting on a Kendo Performance as we walked by.

Entering the inner main courtyard, I could smell the enticing aroma of the Takoyaki (Octopus Pastry Balls) already! I quickly placed an order for the Takoyaki ($5 for 6 pieces per order), and we sat down to eat them.

The Takoyaki were a decent size, and presented with the usual Katsuobushi (Dried Bonito Flakes), Beni Shoga (Pickled Ginger), and Japanese Mayonnaise. Biting into one, it was surprisingly well made: A nice, crisp exterior, giving way to a soft dough center and a decent-sized piece of Tako (Octopus). I enjoyed this version more than the more "famous" version made at the Mitsuwa Umaimono Fair earlier this year, but it fell short of the amazing Takoyaki I had in Ueno Park in April, which was simply the best Takoyaki I've had so far. But for a simple Summer Festival in So Cal, this was nice. :)

While we were eating, they had a Taiko Drum Performance on the main stage. It was nice sitting back and enjoying a Taiko event, and it felt like Summer was finally "kicking off" in some ways. (^_~)

Probably the most popular non-food booth was for Chiara Tokyo. This booth specialized in custom decorating your cell phone (some cute designs, and some that were just "too much Shibuya" :), and had people waiting the whole time we were there!

There were booths selling drinks (non-alcoholic and beer and wine), as well as the classic Ikayaki (Roasted Squid) and Roasted Corn.

The next act to follow the Taiko Drum Performance was a fun children's Hula Dance Performance, which was loudly applauded by the proud parents and everyone watching.

The next booth was selling Yakisoba (Stir-Fried Noodles, usually with Onions, Cabbage, and a type of meat like chunks of Pork).

The next booth was from the Hokkaido Jinkai, selling their Jin Don (Stir-Fried Lamb with Bean Sprouts and Onions). The gentlemen I spoke with said that the cook was from Hokkaido (as they all were), and this was their tribute to a Lamb recipe that was popular in the Hokkaido region.

The Jin Don was a simple bowl of Stir-Fried Lamb, cooked well-done. It was a little overcooked for my tastes, but it combined nicely with the Onions and Bean Sprouts. Slightly sweet, yet probably too salty, it was passable food at the local Matsuri Festival.

We took a break and walked inside to the Rec Center area, where they had a Kokushin Karate Contest. The head of the Kyokushin had a nice speech about their philosophy for kids participating in the Karate tournament.

Outside the Rec Center, Shin Yakitori was sponsoring a booth, selling two types of Yakitori (Roasted Chicken Skewers), Momo Tare (Chicken Thigh in Tare Sauce), and their Tsukune Tare (Chicken Meatball in Tare Sauce), both selling for $2.50 per Skewer.

Their Momo Tare was competently done, moist and simple. Their Tare sauce tasted a bit too watered down and pedestrian, especially when compared to the delicious Tare sauce created by Tomo-san at Yakitori Bincho. The Tsukune was also pretty straightforward, but nice and piping hot and moist from having just come off the grill.

The next act on the main stage while we were eating was a Hip Hop Performance, which was OK.

Gaja Moc sponsored a booth selling their famous Okonomiyaki (a popular savory "Pancake" (batter and various vegetables and/or meats)), which was tempting to get, but we were getting full at this point and were looking for dessert. :)

I decided to get the classic Kakigori (Shaved Ice with a Fruit Syrup). I chose Strawberry and we sat down to watch the next act on stage. :) The Kakigori was what you would expect from Ice and Strawberry Syrup, a little too sweet, but nice in the hot Southern California Summer.

The next performance was a troupe from Hawaii that had musicians playing some nice Hawaiian tunes and the rest of the troupe dancing a traditional Hawaiian dance.

On our way out, we bumped into a salesperson and booth selling slices of fresh, chilled Pineapple for $2 a slice. It was tempting, but we were too full at this point; maybe next year! :)

Overall, the 2008 Bridge USA Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival) was a nice diversion on a lazy Southern California Summer Day. It was larger than the other Natsu Matsuris I've been to the last few years in So Cal (e.g., the Shin Sen Gumi Summer Festival), but lacking the variety of food vendors that made even an average Matsuri in Tokyo so special and enticing (e.g., during Sakura season at Ueno Park, there were about ~7-8 times the number of Food Booths that this Bridge USA Festival had), but it's understandable considering the amount of people an event like this would attract locally, versus in Japan.

I'm eager to see what the remaining Summer Festivals will be like in So Cal this year, and ultimately, the Bridge USA Natsu Matsuri succeeded in making it feel like Summer Festivities were underway, but also made me feel natsukashii (nostalgic) for the epic Natsu Matsuris in Japan. (^_^)

2008 Bridge USA Natsu Matsuri (Summer Festival)
(at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center)
3330 Civic Center Drive
Torrance, CA 90503

One Day Only (each year): July 13, 2008, from 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.


Keizo said...

Nice ExileKiss! I couldn't make it so I'm glad you got to go. Thanks for sharing all the pics!


Exile Kiss said...

Thanks Keizo! :)

Sorry you couldn't make it. I'm hoping the next few Matsuris coming up will be just as fun, if not more so. (^_~) Mitsuwa's is coming up next, and then Marukai has one after that... let me know if you find out about others. :)

Mr. Gohan said...

Thanks for the report exile! maybe next year i'll go, if i remember.

Rainie Hana said...

aww..i can't believe i missed it..a chance to wear a yukata..aww..if only i knew..the food looks delicious..and i can't believe they had Chiara..aww..i wanted to get my phone decorated like that too T_T

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Rainie,

Zannen desu ne? (>_<) Well the good news is that Bridge Corp. seems to be pretty stable (this is their 13th Annual Event and it was packed), so there's a good chance they'll have one next year. (^_~)

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