Asia, Japan

5 of Japan’s Craziest Festivals You Have to Experience

You might have heard, but the Japanese have some bizarre customs that are unlike anywhere else in the world. Surely, you have heard about festivals, or matsuri (祭り), such as cherry blossom festivals. However, if you get adventurous enough, you should think about checking out kisai (奇祭), or “festivals with bizarre or unusual rituals,” that can be found throughout the island nation throughout the year. Here are Japan’s most absurd and crazy festivals to get you started:

A Japanese festival were people celebrate fertility at a shrine

1. Kanamara Matsuri

When: First weekend of April

Where: Kawasaki-shi

Why: Everyone has heard of the infamous phallic Japanese festival by now. The origins of the wild Kanamara Matsuri date back to 1600s, first starting as a celebration of fertility, wood, and naughty bits. Nowadays, the “Festival of the Steel Phallus” involves drag queens, phallic food stuffs (popsicles, choco-bananas, and more), as well as genitalia shaped floats. Go on, pick up an awesome souvenir for the family. They’ll die from laughter…or embarrassment.

Two sumos with babies trying to make them cry

2. Naki Sumo Matsuri

When: May

Where: Sensoji Temple, Tokyo-to

Why: No one seems to know how the Naki Sumo Matsuri started, but it has been ongoing for about 400 years now. This particular Japanese festival revolves around sumo wrestlers holding up babies or toddlers while a referee puts on hideous masks in an attempt to get the kids crying. The baby who cries the longest and loudest is crowned the winner of the competition. Yes, that’s all there is—and it is seriously entertaining.

Japanese festival with people dressed in colorful outifts

3. Hokkai Heso Matsuri

When: July

Where: Hokkaido, Furano

Why: This trippy festival was born out of the wish to bring people of Furano together for some giggles. Why it ended up being about belly buttons, no one really knows for sure. Participants in the belly button, or heso, dance paint their bare bellies to look like faces and hide their upper bodies underneath oversized hats. Then, they slip on pants that look like bodies and waddle down the street. 

A man drinks sake from a ramen bowl at Dorome Matsuri, Japan

4. Dorome Matsuri

When: April

Where: Kochi-ken

Why: The Japanese take much pride in their nihonshu, or Japanese-made alcohol. Especially in Kochi, where the Dorome Matsuri brings sake aficionados from all over to test their sake-drinking skills. Basically, anyone can join the party. You simply need a full cup of sake and high alcohol tolerance, because you’re expect to down that sake as fast as you can. Men receive a bowl of 1.8 litres, and woman receive about 0.9 litres. How much can you chug?

Japanese festival in which men are naked

5. Somin-Sai or Hadaka Matsuri

When: First week of February

Where: Iwate-ken, Kokuseki-ji Temple

Why: The direct translation of “Somin-sai” or “Hadaka Matsuri,” is “the Festival of Naked Men and Fire.” If that doesn’t get your attention, nothing will. With over 1,000 years, the Hadaka Matsuri is one of the best known kisai in Japan—and one that you definitely do not want to miss. Every frozen February, men from all over Japan head to Iwate Prefecture, donning fundoshi, or loincloths, and go on pilgrimage to Kokuseki-ji. However, before reaching the temple, they need to plunge into the glacial waters of the Ruritsucho River and survive a mosh pit in hopes of being lucky enough to grab the somin bukuro, or “sacred bag.” 

There you have it–some of the weirdest and craziest Japanese festivals. Of course, there are plenty more to discover where those came from. So what are you waiting for? Get weird at these Japanese kisai.

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