Everyone enjoys having a party, but the Japanese are crazy about it! Thousands of different festivals take place in Japan each year. Traditionally, these festivals are rooted in Shinto’s tradition, some date from hundreds of years ago.
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The Top 7 Weirdest Rural Festivals in Japan
Rural festivals in Japan are more than just religious activities. They provide an opportunity to interact with the community, let your hair down, and drink tons of beer. Some of these festivals are playful, dumb, and even weird in their own right. Here are the top craziest rural festivals listed by the Guidable Team in Japan! Check them out!
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1. Mid-February: Kasedori Matsuri (Stawbird Festival)
This unique festival dates back to the 16th century in Kaminoyama, Yamagata. This “Strawbird Festival” has grown men dressed up in unusual costumes made of straw and screaming like birds.
The straw-pile costumes are no comfort as the men are showered with cold water, which sometimes freezes to the straw, but don’t worry, they drink tons of sake on their wild dance and bird-calling through the castle town. It can be said that this festival of happiness can bring laughter to everyone participating.
2. Third Saturday in February: Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri (The Naked Festival)
Also known more commonly as the “Naked Festival,” Hadaka Matsuri is one of the country’s most legendary celebrations, with no prizes to guess why.
Organized in Okayama, the capital city of Okayama Prefecture, the celebration involves nine thousand guys wearing only loincloths gathering in the freezing Japanese winter to fight it out in hopes of grabbing a pair of lucky sacred sticks. A priest throws these sticks into the heaving mass of nearly naked bodies. Legend has it that the one who manages to get the sticks is coined the ‘lucky man’ and is blessed with a year of happiness. The event dates back around 500 years when it was once a good luck tradition for the New Year.
3. Early April: Kanamara Matsuri (The Penis Festival)
Kawasaki‘s penis festival, also recognized as the ”Steel Penis Festival, ” is possibly just as iconic as Okayama’s naked festival. This event is all about the penis, as the names indicate.
Its story is as fascinating as the event itself, based around the Kanayama shrine – the local penis worshipping shrine in Kawasaki, a city situated between Tokyo and Yokohama. A long time ago, legend claimed a sharp-toothed demon residing inside the vagina of a young woman whom the demon had fallen in love with. The demon, jealous of the woman’s lovers, bit off the penises of the woman’s romantic interests. The young woman sought a local blacksmith’s assistance, who invented an iron penis to trick the demon and break his teeth. The shrine is also popular with sex workers who have come to pray for protection from sexually transmitted infections over time. Established in 1969, the festival is now a major tourist attraction and raises money for HIV research.
6 rural festivals in Japan you must see! Check out NOW!
4. Late July: Hokkai Heso Matsuri (The Belly Button Festival)
The Hokkai Heso Matsuri, known as the Belly Button Festival, is a little younger than most other festivals.
It was first introduced in 1976 as an effort to unify the residents of Furano, Hokkaido. The region’s population is geographically spread over a wide mass of land, so the city needed a purpose to gather. However, the event struggled to maintain attention in its early days; in reality, the first-ever event reportedly witnessed just 11 people show up. However, an amusing celebration has seen an increase in participation over time. Thousands gather today to admire the display featuring dancers who have decorated their bellybuttons to look like a face.
5. Early September: Paantu Punaha (Scaring Children Festival)
Did your parents ever warn you that monsters would come and get you if you did something bad? Well, then be glad that you didn’t grow up in Okinawa‘s Miyakojima-shi area because that’s where all your childhood nightmares come true.
Local people dress up as the extremely creepy Paantu (a supernatural being covered in mud and foliage) during the Paantu Punaha festival. The festival is all a form of exorcism to expel evil spirits and offer the town and its citizens blessings.
6. Namahage Festival (New Year’s Scaring Children Festival)
Feel sorry for the kids from Oga City, Akita, because a creature like Paantu is the least of their worries during New Year’s.
Oga’s city is overwhelmed on New Year’s Eve by Namahage, the extremely frightening beasts that live in the mountainsides. This festival is a custom that has been run since ancient times. During this time, local houses are visited by people dressed in large masks and straw raincoats to ask residents if their kids have behaved. The head of the household offers the Namahage mochi to calm the threatening creatures and tells them that the children have been good and will continue to be so in the upcoming year. This is a drastic way of holding kids in line, but it’s probably a lot of fun.
7. Late April: Nakizumo Matsuri (The Baby Crying Festival)
Nakizumo, known as the ”Baby Crying Festival” is one of the nation’s finest and strangest festivals. It’s all about making babies scream. It has been hosted annually in one of Tokyo’s most iconic religious places, the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. Although one of the last things that parents want is to make their baby cry, this event came from an ancient tradition named “Naku ko wa sodatsu” which means “crying babies grow fat” and is a way to bless the screaming little ones with excellent health. It is also said to frighten away any ghosts that may be hiding.
Nakizumo means ‘crying sumo.’ But you won’t see any sumo wrestlers weeping at this annual festival. What occurs during the celebrations is that by wearing masks or chanting ‘cry, cry, cry,’ sumo wrestlers are given participating babies on a stage set up near the shrine and try to make them cry. The parents have to pay 15,000 JPY to enter their baby in the competition.
Weirdest Rural Festivals in Japan
Japan is a country of festivals; no matter the time of year you visit, there’s a celebration happening somewhere. However, wherever you go, please keep in mind to practice social distance and wear a mask during the pandemic of the Coronavirus. Protect yourself and the people around you. We’re sure the festivals canceled this year will be even more special next year!
The Guidable team hopes you found this article a helpful piece of information! After all, all of our activities are aiming for a better life for foreigners in Japan! So, stay tuned and follow us!