The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Japanese Summer Festivals: Obon and Grilled Corn

In Japan not a month goes by without a festival happening somewhere. This is likely true in any country of ancient origins. However, August is the true festival month because of the celebration of Obon. One of the few periods when vacations are taken from work, mid-August is the time for returning to your hometown and paying respect to your deceased ancestors (or taking a holiday to Hawaii if you are so inclined). Cemetery spots are cleaned. Lanterns are lit to guide the spirits home. Special gift boxes of household products are sent to family.

My favorite part of Obon is Bon Odori, the Obon dance. Neighborhoods celebrate Obon with a community dance. In the evening, lanterns surround a tall stage where folk music is played by a band or by elderly women djing from a boom box. The crowd, following prescribed steps specific to each song, revolves around the stage. The simple steps reflect local history in their movements. Men, women, and children wear yukata, cotton kimono. Anyone can join in the dance. It's magical to walk along a street, catch the sound of bon music drifting from a nearby temple, and suddenly happen upon bon odori.  And the dancing is actually fun because it's easy to learn.
Gigantic multi-neighborhood bon odori
(taken at Nagoya Port Festival)

With any festival, food booths can be found. Candy apples, choco-banana (frozen, chocolate dipped bananas), fried chicken bites, and french fries are normal fare. So are takoyaki (octopus chunks cooked in a ball of pancake-like batter), yakitori (grilled chicken kabobs), yakisoba (panfried noodles with meat and vegetables), dango (grilled pounded rice balls), and yakitomorokoshi (grilled corn).

Our favorites? Yakitori. Yakitomorokoshi. Yakisoba. Dango. And chocobanana, of course. I wrote about Yakitori, the grilled chicken kabobs, in April. Today I'll cover the grilled corn, yakitomorokoshi. And we'll look at yakisoba and dango in the following weeks. These are awesome summer foods that can be eaten year round. All are simple, delicious, and fairly healthy.
Various grilled stuff at a festival

Yakitomorokoshi (Grilled corn with soy sauce and mirin).

whole corn in husks 
soy sauce

Prepare a 1:1 ratio of soy sauce and mirin, depending on the amount of corn you are grilling. About 1/4 cup of the mixture per 4 ears of corn. Boil the soy sauce and mirin until it reduces to half the amount and becomes syrupy. You can do this while grilling the corn.

You might have your own way of grilling corn, so feel free to adjust to your grilling method. The crux of this recipe takes places at the end of grilling. The recommended method is to keep the husks during grilling. Soak them for about 20 minutes to keep from burning. Grill the corn at about 400 degrees (200 c) for 20 minutes, turning them every five minutes. Let them cool, then shuck the husks.

Replace the shucked corn on the grill and brush with the soy/mirin mixture. Allow for grill marks, but remember to turn so the corn doesn't char. Grill until corn is hot and cooked through.

The soy/miring syrup is also a great mixture for yakionigiri, grilled rice balls, and to brush on other grilled vegetables. 

Any festival foods that you like to cook at home? Please share! Thanks to Julie Johnston for reminding me of this yummy recipe!


  1. Sounds fun! I am now longing to go to Japan. You had me at 'frozen banana on a stick'!

    1. Hey Terri,
      Frozen chocobanana is awesome. Much better than squid on a stick, which doesn't improve with chocolate.;)