Obviously, something was going on. People carrying plant pots or long twigs with flashy orange lantern shaped appendages kept streaming from the temple grounds. Also the number of food stands around there was much higher than on a usual day. When we reached the temple grounds, it was packed with people, partly dressed in the summery Yukata, and more or less identical stands selling identical twigs and plants in identical little baskets.
It was the Asakusa Hoozuki Ichi (浅草ほおずき市, the market of “Demon’s Laterns”), famous since the Edo period.
The Hoozuki are nothing else than Physalis (also Winter Cherry or Husk Tomato) which Europeans know as an exotic decoration on fancy desserts. Inside the papery lantern is a cherry sized, orange fruit with a slightly tart taste.
Most Japanese on the other hand are not even aware of the fact that the fruit is edible. To them, the hoozuki is a token of summer and is bought for its appearance which resembles a Chinese lantern, and its attractive orange red color (which in Asia is a sign of good luck, hence they keep gold fishes etc.).
It is thus part of the culture and is also featured in haiku. The title of this post is taken from a haiku by Tsuyoshi Hata,
It was clear that buying hoozuki at the market was an absolute must, since everyone was carrying them. Given my gardening hobby, I obviously went for the potted plant. From the high price I paid I conclude that it will bring me loads of good luck, at least until the next Hoozuki Ichi next year.
Update November 2009: