10 Strange Japanese Festivals

Japan has gained a lot of attention around the world thanks to its unique customs and culture. Here are some traditional festivals that are weird even for Japan.


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1. Tounin Gyouji [Akita]

Do you know the story Yamata no Orochi? Simply put, it's a story in which Susanoo, the god of storms, killed an eight-headed eight-tailed serpent in order to save a damsel in distress from being eaten. It's a very cool story, and this festival is held every year in honor of it.

The reason this festival is called strange is because of the event in the photo, the "ushinori gyouji," or "the cow ride." A single man rides upon the back of the cow. That man is Susanoo. Unlike in the story, the festival has him mostly unconscious, a far cry from the cool image he has in the story. Why he's unconscious is a mystery.

HP www.oganavi.com/event/20.php (Japanese Only)

Place: Katagami-shi, Akita

Date: July 7th

2. Kokusekiji Sominsai [Iwate]

This strange image of a bunch of half-naked men is actually the Kokusekiji Sominsai, a festival with a history of more than 1000 years in which the men are struggling to get a bag that has "sominsai" printed on it. The man who has it in the end is said to be blessed. All these men fighting with all their hearts in the bitter cold to become blessed makes it closer to a sport than a festival. Actually, this festival is open to anyone who applies, but there are rules like you can't eat meat, fish, eggs, or garlic for a week before the festival, so it's actually pretty difficult...

HP https://www.city.oshu.iwate.jp/kanko/view.rbz?cd=1599 (Japanese Only)

Place:Mizusawaku Kuroishicho, Oshu, Iwate


Dates: January-March

3. Otaue Matsuri [Ehime]

Saigen Jiro/Wikimedia Commons

The sight of a wrestler wearing a loincloth, the gorgeously dressed referee, the dirt arena - as long as you know a little bit about Japan, you know that this all points to one sport, and that's sumo. However, the sumo match that's part of this rice-planting festival is a little different from the sumo matches you're familiar with. The challenger is a deity. If the deity wins the match against the human wrestler then it's a promise that the year's harvest will be abundant. Of course, you can't see the deity, but you can enjoy the sight of the wrestler desperately doing his best to win. Every year the deity wins with 2 wins 1 loss.

HP  http://www.go-shimanami.jp/event/?a=127  (Japanese Only)

Place:Oyamazumi Shrine, Omishimacho Miyaura, Imabari, Ehime


Dates: June

4. Kanamara Matsuri [Kanagawa]

If we're talking about festivals with impact, then it's this fertility festival. In recent years, this festival has become really popular among foreign tourists and every year it gets bigger and bigger. By the way, the phallus in the top photo is, for some reason, named Elizabeth.

HP http://kawasakidaishi-kanko.com/wakamiyahachimangu/ (Japanese Only)

Place:Kanayama Shrine, Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa 

Date:The first Sunday of April 

5. Paantu Punaha [Okinawa]

When you were a child, did your parents ever say "the monsters will get you" if you ever did anything bad? In Okinawa's Miyakojima, those children are told "the paanto will get you." This festival is one meant to banish bad luck, and during it people dress up as paanto and cover themselves and everything else in mud. It doesn't matter if you're from the town, a tourist, if the house is brand new or if you just washed your car - it will get covered in mud. 

HP www.churashima.net/shima/miyako/pantoo/index.html (Japanese Only)

Place: Miyakojima-shi, Okinawa

Date: early September on the lunisolar calendar

6. Onbashira Matsuri [Nagano]

C1815/Wikimedia Commons

The Onbashira Matsuri is a festival that takes place once every seven years. The sight of 16 huge trees being brought in from the mountains only by manpower in order to replace the pillars of the temple certainly has an impact. The "kiotoshi," where the men slide down the steep hill riding the huge tree is a sight that will leave an impression.

HP http://www.onbashira.jp/ (Japanese Only)


Dates: April 2-10 every 7 years

7. Hetomato [Nagasaki]

What does "hetomato" mean? Actually, no one knows. And no one knows how this festival started, either. A huge straw zori sandal is held by young people, and if they discover unmarried woman, they put her atop the zori and lift it up high.

HP navi.gotoshi.net/ (Japanese Only)

Place: Shimosakiyamacho, Goto, Nagasaki

Dates: The third Sunday of every January 

8. Akutai Matsuri [Ibaraki]

The surprising thing about this festival is that it's a festival where the spectators boo men in white clothes as stress relief. This is great for people who have bottled up their resentment or have something they want to yell. By the way, before the festival starts, they have a contest in which the person who can yell an insult in the loudest voice wins. 

HP http://www.kasama-kankou.jp/upsys_pro/index.php?mode=detail&code=450 (Japanese Only)

Place: 102 Izumi, Kasama-shi, Ibaraki

Dates: End of December 

9. Muon Bon Odori [Aichi]

If you see this festival in photos, then it looks like a regular Japanese festival. However, this festival is silent. The dancers dance along to music they're listening to through headphones, so spectators don't hear anything. Of course, this only started in recent years, because people in the neighborhood complained about the noise. 

HP http://www.medias.ne.jp/~%20goro23/ (Japanese Only)

Place: Otamachi, Tokai-shi, Aichi

Dates: early August

10.Rokugo no Takeuchi [Akita]


The sight of people hitting each other with plenty of bamboo will make you think you're in the Warring States period. Since it's a furious battle, there are injuries. The scariest part is that in the beginning the bamboo is really long so you it's just blunt hits, but once it breaks it becomes sharp enough to be very dangerous.

HP http://www.rokugo-mizu.net/maturi/maturi1.html (Japanese Only)

Place: Hondomachi Rokugo, Misato-cho, Senboku-gun, Akita

Dates: February 15th

The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.

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