4 Strange Japanese Festivals You Should Visit When regular matsuri just don't cut it anymore

    Festivals, or matsuri are an integral part of Japanese culture. Even matsuri can seem a bit old-fashioned and sometimes religious for ultra-modern, secular Japan, these festivals are a staple of Japanese society that most people take part in.

    Though there are a few festivals that are celebrated across Japan, there are a few that are very regional, and very specific. But sometimes they’re so strange that they attract people from across the country or even across the world.

    Metallic Genatalia

    • Where: Kanayama shrine, Kawasaki
    • When: First Sunday in April

    Probably the most well-known of these festivals is the kanamara matsuri かなまら まつ, or “Festival of the Metal Penis” (talk about a mouthful!). I won’t go too far into detail about this festival, because it’s a topic that’s been beaten to death, and I don’t want to end up with a mess on my hands.

    Mobile Japanese shrine containing a penis statue
    Source: takao goto

    I thought it’s at least worth mentioning since it’s so widely covered in western media, though God forbid I play with this topic too much and end up stroking my own ego. Long story short, the festival is a mixed bag of symbolism, ranging from protection against STDs to various other protections and blessings.

    Crying Sumo

    • Where: Various locations
    • When: Throughout the year

    The premise of naki sumou 相撲すもう, or Crying Sumo festivals held across Japan is somewhat baffling. Two sumo wrestlers are given a baby each and hold them in front of each other. People see which baby cries first and, following that, which baby cries louder. Shinto priests egg on the babies by making faces, noises, and putting on masks to provoke more tears.

    Baby being held in front of man with a mask
    Source: Gideon Davidson

    Why is there a festival dedicated to upsetting children? Supposedly, there is a Japanese saying that goes “Crying babies grow fast.” Nothing to kick start your child’s growth like terrifying and upsetting them.

    At first, I was a bit skeptical about this festival. After all, it kinda seems mean to make all of these babies cry. But I suppose if the US can hold toddler beauty pageants, then a crying baby festival seems kind of tame in comparison.

    Naked Festival

    • Where: Various locations
    • When: Throughout the year

    Excuse the pun, but we covered naked festivals a few years back, but it doesn’t seem right to have a list of strange festivals without at least mentioning it.

    men in loincloths at hadaka matsuri
    Source: calltheambulance

    Like Crying Sumo festivals, Japan’s naked festivals happen all around Japan at different times of the year. Men strip down to just a loincloth (although sometimes even less) and participate in purifying rituals. It involves touching a sacred object or person, with a lot of freezing, purifying water being thrown on participants and crowds alike.

    Belly Button Festival

    • Where: Furano, Hokkaido
    • When: Late July

    Smack in the middle of the Japanese island of Hokkaido, the town of Furano decided years ago to create a festival to bring its people together. Festival organizers chose to celebrate something that was also positioned right in the middle: the belly button.

    Japanese men with painted stomachs

    Thus was born heso matsuri 臍祭へそまつり, or the Belly Button Festival. Revelers paint faces on their stomachs and hide their heads under giant hats, making bizarre stomach people.

    The highlight of the festival is, of course, the famous Belly Button Dance, but don’t miss other festival highlights like the baby crawling race and watermelon splitting competition.