Festivals in Japan

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One way to immerse yourself in Japanese culture is to join the festivals, all of which are marked with passion and exuberance. The range of festivals run the full gamut from fireworks festivals to flower festivals to dance and other cultural festivals, thus ensuring that there’s bound to be a festival every weekend in various parts of Japan! So why not take the opportunity to observe some of the quirkest and most outlandish festivals that Japan has to offer – experiences that would be impossible to gain back in your home country? Here are four such unconventional festivals you ought to check out in Japan:


Drunken Horse Festival

Come mid-September, the downtown streets of Kumamoto City will erupt with rapturous noise as the Drunken Horse Festival (otherwise known as the Great Festival of the Fujisaki-hachimangu Shrine) will be held then.

As to why this festival is called the Drunken Horse Festival, it is said that in the past, the horses were actually fed with shochu – a local alcoholic beverage – before the festival! While this practice has been discontinued, the essence of what makes this festival awesome has thankfully been retained. Organizations and companies will assemble enough people to form a team so that they can parade a horse down the streets. Each team will make their entrance felt, with boisterous cheering and spirited banging of taiko drums announcing the arrival of their horse. This horse, often dressed to the nines in garish costumes, will be dragged by a group of burly men and may even charge towards the crowd – before being pulled back by these men. With as many as 50 teams participating in this parade, it is an adrenalin-pumping, lively extravaganza that never seems to end!

-English Name: Drunken Horse Festival
-Japanese Name: 藤崎八旛宮秋季例大祭
-Address: Kumamoto City
-Open Hours / Closed Day: 3rd week of September (Mon-Fri)
-Budget: Free
-Lat/Long: (32.803100, 130.707891)
-Phone number: 096-343-1543 (Fujisaki-hachimangu Shrine)


Naked Man Festival


Want to see the bizarre sight of thousands of men wearing only in loincloths in the midst of winter? If you make a trip to Konomiya Town in Aichi prefecture on January 13th of the lunar calendar (which makes it around end February in the solar calendar), you can watch the Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Man Festival) in all its raw splendour! Apparently, this festival originated during the Nara period when the Emperor initiated the whole country to transfer their sins and bad luck to a shin-otoko (god-man) so that Japan would not suffer from a plague. Nowadays, plagues may not haunt Japan anymore, but people certainly still do experience bouts of bad luck, which explains why this festival has lasted till now. On the actual day of the festival, the shin-otoko will be presented to the impatient crowd. The thousands of loincloth-clad men will give a collective spine-tingling roar and pounce upon him so as to touch and transfer their bad luck to him. The ordeal for the shin-otoko only ends when he successfully itches his way past the frenzied men to arrive at Konomiya Shrine. But given the fact that people apply to be the shin-otoko every year, it seems that it is an ordeal that the chosen one is happy to endure!

-English Name: Naked Man Festival
-Japanese Name: はだか祭
-Address: Konomiya Town, Aichi prefecture
-Open Hours / Closed Day: January 13th of the lunar calendar
-Budget: Free
-Lat/Long: (35.180188, 136.906565)
-Phone number: 052-581-5788 (Aichi Prefectural Tourist Association)


Penis Festival

by *_*, CC BY

Yes, you read that right. Japanese people may be reserved by nature, but this does not deter from celebrating the penis unbashfully! On the first Sunday of April, the Kanamara Matsuri is held at the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Kanagawa. Lest you mistake this for a frivolous and erotic festival, this festival is actually very meaningful as it is used as a platform to raise awareness about safe sex practices and even raise funds for HIV prevention. In any case, be bemused by the sight of strong men carry brightly colored steel phallic-shaped mikoshi (portable Shinto shrines) down the streets. The revelry doesn’t end there.

by *_*, CC BY

You can eat penis lollipops, take selfies with penis-shaped sculptures and even buy penis-shaped souvenirs. So let your inhibitions go and just enjoy all things phallic!

-English Name: Kanamara Matsuri
-Japanese Name: かなまら祭り
-Address: Kawasaki Town, Kanagawa prefecture
-Open Hours / Closed Day: First Sunday of April
-Budget: Free
-Lat/Long: (35.530906, 139.703051)
-Phone number: +81 44-222-3206 (Kanayama Shrine)


Onbashira Festival

by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋), CC BY

As fascinating as it is rare, the Onbashira (Honored Pillars) Festival is only held once every six years in the Lake Suwa area of Nagano prefecture. This festival came about due to the need to replace the pillars at the four shrines of Suwa-Taisha. Hence, 16 huge fir trees located high up in the mountains are cut down with axes and adzes specially made for this significant occasion. Then, ropes are tied to these ropes, after which the locals drag them down the mountains and across uneven terrain in a bid to bring them to the four shrines. Sometimes – and here comes the scary part – they even sit on the logs and ride them downhill so that they can transport the logs faster! People have been known to die during this log riding process, so be sure to stay out of harm’s way even as you try to get good shots of the great spectacle of people ‘travelling’ on logs!

-English Name: Onbashira Matsuri
-Japanese Name: 御柱祭り
-Address: Lake Suwa, Nagano prefecture
-Open Hours / Closed Day: Once every six years. The next occasion is in 2022.
-Budget: Free
-Lat/Long: (36.049262, 138.085315)
-Phone number: 0266-52-1919 (Suwa Shrine)

Japan sure has a number of eccentric festivals to pique your curiosity and trigger your enthusiasm. Why not make it a point to visit some of the above-mentioned festivals so that you can boost your street credibility and gain some highly unusual experiences for your travel repertoire?