The Arizona Matsuri Festival is Japanese inspired event hosted in the Heritage Square area in Phoenix.
For those who like a bit of Japanese culture in them, Matsuri means festival in Japanese. In Japan, there are a multitude of Matsuris throughout the year and the seasons each representing something. A friend of mine told me that this festival in Phoenix aligns with the Matsuri involves the celebration of young girls blossoming into womanhood whatever that means.
Parking is one of the biggest pain points to this festival but I would argue it’s well worth it. My friend and I found parking for $5.00 about 5 blocks from the festival but for instant parking access, you can park in the garages for $12 to $15 dollars. If parking is that much, you should (and you can easily) spend about 3 hours at the festival.
The Arizona Matsuri festival is one very impressive festival. With 4 performance stages and entertainment and apparel from all time periods, you will not be disappointed with the sheer amount of stuff that’s going on here. All of the booths are very high quality and the performances are all very knowledgeable and awesome.
I always praise any type of good Japanese event or restaurant for their impressive quality of how they do things. There are plenty of secrets to this Matsuri and hidden gems which can keep you entertained for a whole day.
Matsuri has a variety of booths that will make the culture geek and the anime nerd squeal. I am in both worlds so I found it extremely satisfying to be there. Most of the density comes from the streets the booths occupy so the spots that aren’t really that crowded are the booths in the Heritage square and science center’s area. If you need a spot to rest, the outside of the booths on the actual sidewalk has plenty of stages to rest on. The grass around the actual Heritage Square area is pleasant nice to sit as as well.
I would separate the booths in Matsuri as either pop art, traditional informational, photograph booths, and of course, food.
Pop Art: I noticed a lot of independent Graphic Designers had booths. Some I’ve seen before in other festivals. These little go-getters post intricate mascots that can be described as either cute or awesome. Other booths included comic book and anime stores which of course, sold geeky things for the anime crowd.
Traditional information booths: Moist of the information booths were obviously Matsuri funded. This included legitimate samurai armor, authentic Japanese dolls, a bonsai forest festival and authentic Japanese architecture. I would also put in the mix that the Arizona Shiba Inu and Akita Inu foundation were also there with their adorable dogs.
Photograph booths: There were a couple spots where people could take photos in the shade area. You have a choice between a green screen and a sakura cut out.
Food: Though mainly explained in detail later on in the article, the Matsuri festival is full of food. Though not all of them Japanese, most are very Asian inspired. Some of my friends told me that the bakery that’s there only does Japanese food in this festival and in their regular shop, they sell other things.
You would have to be in 4 places at once to enjoy every little performance Matsuri has to offer. Not to mention that the festival goes on for two days and is busy from start to end. You have literally every type of performance there from learning how to put on a kimono, to traditional Japanese dancing, to anime-inspired maid dancing, to martial arts, to rock stars, to the most prolific event, Taiko drumming. In fact, there is literally a whole stage for Taiko Drumming.
We saw a few stage events but it was a small part of the big Matsuri journey.
Tons of Shopping. You want Gundams? They have them. How about Anime poster? Japanese dolls? Tea sets? Paper Lanterns? Or maybe some Bonzai trees. Everything is pretty much sellable except for the Shiba Inu Dogs. Prices vary from shop to shop but everything is decently expensive. Of course it is, it’s a festival. In any case, there are a lot of legitimate things I’ve never even thought of buying.
Either way, this is a hub for finding all sorts of Japanese inspired nick nacks. What’s really cool about Matsuri is that the apparel is REALLY Japanese. No knock offs here, just pure authentic Japanese or local goods from all time zones.
Matsuri has a bunch of food booths, food trucks, $3.00 water, and a beer garden. There’s a lot of food there but there’s only a couple highlights. Mainly the Takoyaki where there seemed to always be a line.
Though there are so many food booths in Arizona Matsuri, we decided to try just three items.
Roka Akor Baby Back Ribs -$6 for a slice of 4 ribs. These were charred and juicy. A bit small but hey, that’s festival pricing for you. These ribs had a type of Asian sauce glaze and though the meat wasn’t falling off the bone, it was easy to rip them apart and share. I definitely want to go to their Scottsdale location in the future.
Takoyaki at everywhere – People go to Matsuri mainly to eat Takoyaki as their go to item. Maybe I’m exaggerating… but there was a huge line to get them. Luckily, I had a helper get 4 orders of the stuff to share with my crew. The Takoyaki is ok, not amazing but it gets the job done. Most of the people didn’t like it so I had to eat most of it. Overall, you could tell that the Takoyaki isn’t made fresh but this makes sense because if they were to make it fresh, it would take three times as long to make. I saw the cooks take cold ones out of a bucket and add them into a warming pan.
Because they aren’t fresh, the quality drops a bit. The doughy inside becomes a bit gluey and the crispiness is impossible to achieve again. I do like how generous they were with the octopus, a very expensive part of Takoyaki. At $5.00 for 6, this was pretty good and very filling. I’d say you should definitely try it at Matsuri even though it isn’t the best ever. As a side note, Tampopo in Tempe has GREAT Takoyaki.
Hawaii Shaved Ice at Kilauea Ice – After like 4 hours walking in the heat, we needed something to cool off with. Everyone was walking around with shaved ice so we decided to get some. Being adventurous, we ordered root beer, banana, and tangerine with all of the weird toppings including red beans, those exploding pearls, chocolate sauce, coconut and an orange sour powder.
I regret those toppings… especially the red beans. Hard little disasters that I literally spooned them out and threw them in the ground. You get a small ice cream surprise at the bottom but it was literally a quarter of a cup’s worth.
Matsuri is an amazing, well organized festival. This is why hundreds upon hundreds go there every year. You have a huge list of performances from all different eras, apparel of every single kind of Japanese culture, and a delicious array of food. This is a perfect example of a popular cultural festival in Arizona and I have never seen this much of an audience in a culture festival. And I go to a lot of culture festivals!
I applaud the many hands that make this festival happen. I know there’s a lot of Japanese organizations that try their hardest to explain their culture I have never seen such a diverse crowd of Asians, cosplayers, and regular Phoenicians in one place.
If I were to choose, the best part of the whole festival was petting the Shiba Inu Puppy