Odaiba Oktoberfest 2015 ~Spring~ -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
“Japanese people are always so serious and hard-working. They never let loose or just have a good time and hardly ever like to mingle with international folks... right?“ WRONG! The major cities host several events nearly every week that simply smash these stereotypes to bits. One of them is the Japanese adaptation of the German Oktoberfest in Tokyo.
Twice a year, in the spring and fall, Tokyo Bay's man-made island, Odaiba, becomes the stage for the Japanese Oktoberfest. Originally, this is the world's largest beer festival held in Munich, Germany, which happens to be my hometown. As a half-German, half-American girl – who has been known to attend the above-mentioned Oktoberfest at least once a year – being not only slightly (but extremely!!) intrigued by this event seems a natural given. I'm sure the “Oktoberfest in late April” part threw you off a bit there, but I swear that it makes total sense, so let me explain.
The food stall directory opens up to become a hat in the shape of a beer mug -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
Munich is, in fact, home to two big beer festivals, held in the exact same spot. One is the actual Oktoberfest, which starts the last week of September and lasts until the second week of October. The other is the so-called “Frühlingsfest” (literally “spring festival”), which is a slightly smaller version of No. 1 and happens in... late April! Now you see, it all makes sense.
Back to Odaiba and the Japanese Spring Oktoberfest: My German expat friend invited me to join his group at the festival, and because I'd never been to Odaiba before and was really curious about the festival (my mind had already created the image of happy, red-faced Japanese salarymen dressed in checkered shirts and Lederhosen swaying back and forth to Bavarian folk music with a liter jug of beer in their hands), I decided to board the packed monorail to Daiba station, passing over Rainbow Bridge, and see for myself what this Japanese Oktoberfest business was all about. When I arrived I was greeted by this large sign at the entrance to the festival grounds depicting a group of three Bavarian men in traditional hats carrying big jugs of beer, which piqued my interest even more and made me feel excited about what experiences were in store for me that day.
Entrance to the Odaiba Oktoberfest -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
At the entrance, I was handed a pack of pamphlets listing the booths selling beer and food. The high prices for beer (800-1600 Yen for 300-500 ml, up to 2800 Yen for 1 liter, with a deposit of min. 1000 Yen for the beer jugs and glasses) immediately caught my eye, which – to be honest – I had kind of expected, but still slightly curbed my enthusiasm. However the selection was fantastic with about 8 makers from Bavaria (where they know how to make truly great beer) and equally as many from other regions in Germany, and even a great Japanese beer maker, Fujizakura Heights Beer.
After an experience at the Munich Christmas Market in Sapporo several years ago where they had claimed to sell authentic German Christmas Market food that turned out to be highly stylized and nowhere near what you'd find at an actual Christmas Market in Germany, I had my doubts about the food at the Odaiba Oktoberfest, but it was surprisingly good:
They served sausages and pork meat with coarse mustard, mashed potatoes and sauerkraut that tasted exactly as it should. Another surprise was its affordability (500-1000 Yen, depending on the size of the portion). Paired with a beer from one of my favorite breweries (Weihenstephaner Hefeweißbier – an unfiltered wheat beer brewed with yeast) it was a real treat that made me feel a bit nostalgic for my hometown.
You can easily make new friends at the Odaiba Oktoberfest -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
Some of my food related finds threw me off a bit. The “German Potato” seems to consist of cooked and diced potatoes mixed with onion, bacon and cheese, which – albeit sounding quite delicious – is about as German as French fries are French. Other food options included Pizza (hey, Germany IS quite close to Italy, so why not?) and Japanese bar snacks that go well with beer. If you ever decide to visit the Odaiba Oktoberfest, don't be thrown off by the wine booth! There actually is a huge wine tent at the original Oktoberfest, run by one of the most exclusive German distributors for wine as well as beef and veal. And for all who don't enjoy beer, but would like to experience the festival anyway, you'll be happy to know about the cocktail booth serving wine spritzers, fruit cocktails and beer cocktails.
Shaved ice from a small vendor across from the giant Gundam statue -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
To round off the experience, a delightful Japanese MC wearing the traditional Bavarian dress called Dirndl guided the visitors through their German beer culture experience and an Austrian band that played a mix of Bavarian songs, Oktoberfest tunes and older Pop hits (I approved, since Austria shares a border with Bavaria and a somewhat similar culture). It was a lot of fun to see the jumble of nationalities participating in this event. So if you can spare an afternoon during the next installment, I would definitely recommend checking it out! And if you need a break from all the beer and meat, there is an old man with an ancient-looking shaved ice maker selling delicious kakigori across from the big Gundam statue by the Diver City mall right next to the festival grounds.
Tired from the bustle of the festival grounds and the heat of the wonderful sunny day, I finished off my Odaiba outing by enjoying a quiet walk on the island's beach and a short nap in the shade before heading back into the concrete jungle. All in all, my Odaiba Oktoberfest experience was a great success, making me happy that I decided to accept my friend's invitation and see for myself how Tokyoites celebrate other cultures.
Odaiba beach and Rainbow Bridge in the distance -- Photo by Jennifer Weiss
Did you enjoy reading about Jenny's Oktoberfest experience in Japan? Check out her other favorite places in Odigo!