The ??????? (San-Kyu Matsuri)
In your town, have you ever passed by a line up out side a store that goes on for a block and a half? Arouses the curiosity, doesn’t it? Now consider that this line up is in place all day, every day for a whole month! That, my friends, is the ???????.
The ??????? (((read, san-kyu matsuri((read, thirty-nine festival(read, thank-you festival))), is a yearly event here in Nagaoka, put on by our local pastry shop, “Mimatsu”. To translate further the previous bracketed nonsense, ???? when spoken means ‘thirty nine’, however the Japanese are very fond of horrible linguistic puns. When written in in the script above, indicating a ‘foreign’ word it means ‘sankyu’, or without the implied Japanese accent, ‘thank-you’.
The point of this festival, is sort of a month long thank you to the customers of the shop for their patronage throughout the year, though the constant queues seem to imply that the entire town is normally a regular customer (a blatant lie, or course). During the month of February, Mimatsu offers it’s custard puffs, which normally retail for ¥100, for ¥39 (there’s that pun again). People are willing to line up for hours to walk away with 7-10 boxes of 10 puffs each.
It seems that there is even an unspoken status among residents of the town for having these puffs. People will walk proudly around town with their stacks of boxes, implying to others that, “I am so well off, that I have the time to waste hours in line for what amounts to a stack of heart attacks in a box!” I was lucky, in that my job allows me to waste most daylight hours on such ventures; and that because I arrived early, my wait was a paltry 40 minutes.
And the store seems to do quite brisk business during the festival. Mimatsu, which normally has a small cafe in the back, is packed to the rafters with these boxes of puffs, and will sell out many times a day. In fact, every hour, a truck will arrive with a new shipment of the puffs, which will rapidly disappear from the store.
“But how are the puffs themselves,” I hear you ask? In a word, good. They were certainly worth the wait, especially for the price I paid for them. The pastry is light, and the custard is smooth and creamy. Little lumps within the pastry itself belie it’s origins; this is not over-processed, industrial baking. Will I do it again? Well, that really depends on how quickly I go through the 3 remaining boxes in my freezer. The puffs do freeze well, but need quite a bit of defrosting time to avoid crunchy crystals in the custard. I do think we’ll be seeing them again next year.