6 Most Unusual Japanese Festivals

6 Most Unusual Japanese Festivals

Japan is a place of celebration, with an estimated 200,000 Japanese festivals conducted each year. Therefore, anytime you visit this great nation, you will discover something being honoured somewhere. Here are seven of the oddest festivals (matsuri) of this country, which I hope will inspire your trip planning and make it a pleasant and fascinating experience.

Baby Crying Festival (Naki Sumo Matsuri) in Japan

When: April

Where: Tokyo’s Sensoji Temple

Most of us find infants’ cries unpleasant, if not amusing. However, each year at Tokyo’s Sensoji Temple, parents bring their infants to compete in a crying contest, hoping to drive away evil spirits so that their children would grow up happy and healthy.

Origin

This centuries-old custom is claimed to have arisen from the odd Japanese saying “Naku ko wa sodatsu,” which translates as “Crying newborns get fat.” A second reason for this celebration is the notion that is wailing out loud drives away evil spirits. Although neither of these methods is effective, people continue to make their newborns cry on this particular day.

How is it celebrated?

Parents hand their infants over to sumo wrestlers during the celebration, who do all they can to make them cry. The winner is the infant who cries fastest, longest, and loudest. Various techniques are employed to obtain the newborns, including face-pulling, noise-making, and jiggling. If they remain silent, the referee will intervene to speed up the procedure.

6 Most Unusual Japanese Festivals

Belly Button Celebration (Hokkai Heso Matsuri)

When: July 28-29 annually

Where: Furano, Hokkaido

In addition to being a beautiful town famed for its lavender fields and ski resort in the heart of Hokkaido, Forano also hosts a unique summer event, the Belly Button Festival.

Origin

Unlike many other Japanese celebrations, the Belly Button Festival was first observed in 1969. As the village of Furano is sparsely inhabited due to its mountainous terrain, the festival was designed for entertainment and to unite the locals. Because Furano is located in the middle of Hokkaido and the event involves belly button-themed dancing, it is dubbed the Belly Button Festival.

How is it celebrated?

During these two days, several activities will take place. The highlight, however, is the belly button dancing competition, in which thousands of dancers fight for awards as their bellies are painted with humorous expressions such as moustachioed clowns, animals, and Japanese characters.

International guests may also apply for free participation in the belly button dance. To participate, you must create a funny face on your stomach and cover your face with a straw hat or similar item. There is no need to bring anything since the festival organisation will rent out a belly button dancing gear for a fee.

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Festival of Curses (Akutai Matsuri)

When: December third Sunday

Where: Mountain Atago, Ibaraki

In most civilisations across the world, cursing in public is viewed as unpleasant and forbidden. However, on the third Sunday of December, individuals are invited to curse on Mt. Atago in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Origin

The celebration began two centuries ago during the Edo era, according to legend. Most garment industry employees were women, and they yearned for a respite from the exhausting process of hand-making kimonos. As a result, they discovered an outlet for their stress: swearing.

How is it celebrated?

On the day of the event, hundreds of people would trek for forty minutes to reach Atago Shrine. As they approach the shrine, they curse the 13 priests in front of them and disguise themselves as tengu, a disruptive demon with a large snout. The most common curse words are “bakayaro” (idiot) and “konoyaro” (idiot) (bastard). Before reaching the Atago Shrine, the tengus will present their sacrifices to 18 lesser shrines as the audience continues to curse and attempt to steal the presents. Those who receive the contributions are granted good fortune.

4. Laughing Festival (Warai Matsuri/Nyu Matsuri)

When: Sunday, October second

Where: Nyu Shrine, Hidakagawa, Wakayama

Laughter is the most effective medication. Locals in Hidakagawa have known this for two centuries. They have an annual celebration of laughter to cheer up a melancholy deity and bring them good fortune.

Origin

According to tradition, other gods laughed at a goddess named Niutsuhime no mikoto for oversleeping and arriving late to a meeting. She imprisoned herself in the Nyu Shrine out of grief. The villagers gathered around the shrine to cheer her up by making her laugh. Their laughing transformed her sadness into happiness, and she eventually decided to go out.

How is it celebrated?

The day-long celebration begins with a parade headed by the Suzu Furi (Bell Jingler), the festival leader. The Suzu Furi, dressed as a clown and clutching a bell in one hand and a treasure chest in the other, leads the mikoshi (a portable shrine), the dancers, and other participants to the Nyu Shrine as they all cry “warae, warae” (laugh, laugh). When they reach the shrine, they all laugh simultaneously.

5. Try-Before-You-Die Celebration (Shukatsu Festa)

When: September or December date

Where: Tokyo’s Ota City Industrial Plaza PIO location (similar festivals are also held else in Japan)

Everyone appears to fear death to some degree, and some even avoid discussing it. But in Japan, an ageing country, the acceptance of death as a part of life is increasing. They even have a celebration called Shukatsu, which means “death preparation.” People are no longer reluctant to discuss death.

How is it celebrated?

During the event, individuals can practise their funerals in preparation for their last farewells. For instance, they can

  • try on funeral attire
  • lie in the casket
  • learn what to do with their stuff (e.g. jewels, bags, clothing)
  • try writing ending notes

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6. The Naked Man Celebration (Hadaka Matsuri)

When: Sunday, February third

Where: Location: Saidai-Ji Shrine, Okayama (also elsewhere in Japan)

This is one of the most bizarre events you can discover in Japan. On one of the coldest nights of winter, over 10,000 men wearing just a loincloth assemble at Okayama’s Saidai-Ji Shrine, awaiting the priest’s tossing of holy sticks known as shingi. Those who obtain the sacred sticks are deemed fortunate and are granted a year of bliss. Although the event is observed throughout Japan with minor variations, the one in Saidai-ji is the largest and most well-known.

Origin

Some individuals claim that the celebration originated at Saidai-ji Shrine roughly 500 years ago. At the end of the year, devotees of the shrine raced to get paper charms from the priest because they believed receiving one would bring them good fortune. Later, the priest discovered that paper charms were readily ruined when the mob attempted to capture them. Therefore, they were replaced by more resilient wooden sticks and bundles of willow.

According to another tale, being nude can fend off evil and misfortune. Consequently, villages would select one “fortunate” individual to absorb all misfortune. The selected man would go nude through the audience. Then he would leave the village along with the people’s misfortune, problems, and illnesses.

How is it celebrated?

In the afternoon, groups of men wearing loincloths would dive into a cold lake to purify themselves. Then, at midnight, the lights of the Saidai-ji shrine will be turned off, and loincloth-clad men will compete for more than an hour in the bitter cold for the good sticks thrown by the priest. The victors are those who seize the sticks and force them into a masu-filled box.

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