Meguro Sanma Festival

September 9

Each year, Tokyo’s smokiest, fishiest matsuri heralds the start of the sanma season at Tanjo Hachiman Shrine, near Meguro Station.

Around 6,000 of the slim, silvery fish (most people are probably more familiar it’s form than its English name, the Pacific saury) will be handed out for free, fresh from the grill by shrine staff and volunteers wearing colourful, livery clad happi jackets. The event has become quite a highlight for those linking the seasons to changing culinary choices; autumn is here, so sanma it is.

The event as it is today dates back to 1996 but, as is the case with many modern day festivals in Japan, it is held in celebration of a traditional folk tale – a feudal lord was said to be attracted to the fish, seen as a peasant’s food, while travelling through Meguro and just couldn’t get enough of it.

Oily fish like these are made for the charcoal grills – they swim fast (to get away from the tuna that like to eat them) so they are pretty much made of muscle and any fat they have is evenly distributed throughout the body, giving a texture and bite that stands up well to high-heat cooking.

Your fish will be worth a wait, and that might just be what you get. Turn up at one of the allotted times – 9:00; 10:00; 12:00 or 13:30 – to get a ticket (remember, it’s free) and go where you are told! Fishy goodness awaits.

These slippery little customers come perfectly portion sized; many people will not gut the fish, enjoying the slightly bitter innards alongside the sweet flesh and even enjoying its crispy tail – just watch out for a few bones in your teeth.

We’ll take ours with a healthy drizzle of super citrusy yuzu-like sudachi lime from Tokushima and a traditional daikon garnish, and enjoy it while watching the awa-odori dancing and various other end of summer festivities along Meguro-dori.

If you can’t make it, you can always watch a live web broadcast and from your own kitchen to get the juices flowing.

For more information (in Japanese) and an easy to read purple pink orange and blue map to the shrine, click here.