Even if you’ve lived most of your life in America, you still know a thing or two about a good festival. Americans have crazy celebrations and conventions for all kinds of things— comic books, wrestling, movies, holidays, you name it. America commercializes, bottles, and sells it for all kinds of money to make as much as possible while all of the participants get in on the action and do their best to be a part of whatever they’re celebrating. Be it cosplay, dressing up as their favorite character or just enjoying a parade of giant balloons traversing the Manhattan landscape.
As we all know, festival fun is not just a construct of American commercialism, a good party is an idea the world over can get into it. Asia and all of her countries have the advantage of traditions and history that sometimes predate the Gregorian calendar. Whether it is because of, or in spite of, the fact that some festivals could seem downright mean or inhumane to outsiders, some others seem like just good old fashion fun. No matter the reasons for celebrating, all corners of Asia know how to have a good time, no matter how wild the celebration seems. Here are the 15 weirdest and grossest Asian Festivals.
15. Dress Up the Corpses Festival (Indonesia)
On the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, the people have a ritual there that puts Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, and The Walking Dead to shame! Every three years, the Ma’nene Festival takes place in the region. The Torajan people who live there celebrate life… by digging it up! They dig up their loved ones, clean them, and dress them in their favorite clothes. The celebration dates back at least 100 years and was supposedly started by a hunter named Pong Rumasek, who stumbled upon a corpse abandoned under a tree. So he dressed the corpse in his own clothes gave it a proper burial and believed he was blessed with good fortune. For the celebration, families save their money to give their loved ones a grand and proper burial. The corpses are also wrapped very carefully to prevent decay. Another part of the festival is the coffins themselves are cleaned and repaired as well, the dead are treated with great care. The Torajan believe that death is not the end of a journey but just another step in eternal life.
14. Lynchee And Dog Meat Festival (China)
Out of all the festivals on this list, only one elicits general condemnation is Guangxi province, China’s Lynchee and Dog Meat festival. For people with twisted senses of humor who like to joke that you’re eating cats and dogs when eating Chinese food, this festival makes the bad joke real. Taking place in Yulin since 2009, but eating dog meat has been a practice in China for nearly 500 years. The festival means that at least 10,000 dogs and cats will be slaughtered and then cooked and eaten in a variety of ways for 10 days. Officials in China have denounced the festival, it might be legal to eat dog but the festival, which often times has seemingly also nabbed people’s pets (as evidenced by dog collars found around the festival), the Dog Meat Festival is not indicative of Chinese culture or heritage. Despite claims that the dogs are killed humanely, the festival has protests from all walks of life including celebrities like Matt Damon and one Chinese woman who purchased several dogs, saving their lives and bringing them home.
13. Hadaka Matsuri (Japan)
If you’re a male, not ashamed of your body, and want to experience a year full of good luck, grab your finest loin cloth and book your tickets to Okayama, Japan for Hadaka Matsuri, or the Naked Festival for gaijin. Every third Saturday in February, over 9000 Japanese men flock to Saidaiji Temple where they look forward to being doused in cold water as they all scramble for wooden sticks called a shingi, no bigger than a ruler, and attempt to put it in a lock box. It is believed that the man who does this will be blessed with good fortune for the entire year. All in an effort to purify the body and soul. The event is solely for adult males, but that doesn’t mean that children can’t get in on the fun, also. But instead of going for the shingi, kids go after lucky charm type items like rice cakes.
12. Naki Sumo: The Baby Crying Festival (Japan)
Another zany tradition of Japanese Zumo, or Sumo culture showcasing how wildly popular the sport and its athletes are is their ability to help scare babies. Yes, you read that correctly, in Japan there is a festival devoted to making babies cry. In many cultures making a baby cry is probably one of the worst things you can do. But for over 400 years, the Nakizumo Festival at the Sensoji temple, the Sumo try to do just that. Over 100 babies are brought forth and held by the mammoth athletes while they attempt to make the little cutie pies cry their eyes out. Generally whichever tyke cries first wins and it is said that they will have good health, although it is unclear about what happens to all of the runners up. If the babies don’t cry, a Gyoji, the Sumo referee, enters the fray and he will attempt to scare the children by yelling and wearing scary traditional Japanese demon masks.
11. Crucifixion Festival (Philippines)
Mixing folk and religious tales along with the words of the Bible have brought this event to us. Taking place in the largest Catholic nation in the East, the Philippines, the Crucifixion Festival is exactly what it sounds like. Devout catholic Filipinos re-enact Jesus being nailed to the cross and do it to themselves to get a taste of what their lord and savior did for their sins. The politicians and religious leaders walk a fine line, speaking out against the practice and forbidding tourists to attempt the ritual for fear of their festival becoming a circus. But every Good Friday (when else?), many flock to the dusty mound in San Pedro Cutud Village. The people who partake in the experience also walk barefoot whipping their bare backs to also atone to their sins. Oddly enough, it’s all fairly safe— sterile nails are used and medical personnel are on hand to ensure no injuries.
10. Hitori Zumo: The One Person Sumo Festival (Japan)
Any one who knows anything about Sumo Wrestling might be surprised to know the wildly popular Japanese sport has a lot more to it than just two big Yokozunas butting their bellies together. In many parts of Japan, Sumos are rockstars and carry the same clout that many athletes stateside carry. Twice a year, in May and September, people gather at the Oyamazumi Shrine in Omi Island, Ehime to watch one of their beloved Sumos engage in an epic battle with… the air. Actually, a Sumo rises up to clash with the spirit of a rice plant. If he wins the match, the bumpers crops will have a good season for the year. There is also another match at Sumida Hachiman Shrine in Hashimoto city, in Wakayama prefecture. According to some, the ritual goes as far back as the 1300s, and some think it goes back even farther. And you thought it was silly that Americans place their faith in a Groundhog seeing its shadow to determine a swift end to winter.
9. Phuket Vegetarian Festival (Thailand)
This is probably one of the wildest picks on our list— the Phucket Vegetarian festival. For nine days, participants find all kinds of ways to honor animals, by shoving all kinds of things into their faces! Knives, swords, umbrellas, if it can be jammed into a face, it will be jammed into a face, all to promote abstinence from meat and produce good health. It’s basically Ingrid Newkirk’s (PETA founder) favorite holiday! It is widely believed that the whole ordeal started when a wandering Chinese Opera group who fell ill with malaria while performing in Phucket. If you’ve ever seen someone with a love of a lot of face piercings like Monroes, Labrettes, tongues, eyes, noses, and ears, just show them pictures of a Phucket man, whose face is literally covered from so many sharp objects jammed into it that you can’t even make out what he looks like. Christians think they’re tough for giving up meat for lent, have fun trying this one!
8. Kurama Fire Festival (Japan)
Didn’t get enough of naked Japanese men running around in loin cloths? Good then maybe you won the Naked Man competition because you’re in luck. The Japanese get down to their skivvies again for the Kurama Fire Festival. Every October 22, the men of Kurama north of Kyoto turn their village into a sea of fire. To the thrumming of Taiko drums, they carry torches that shower participants in sparks as fire blazes all throughout the village and even some of the houses on their way up to Mount Kurama where they pay homage to the emperor transferring Yuki Myojin the imperial court protector to the town’s Shinto Shrine. Sponsored by the Yuki-jinja shrine, the festival also includes contests and incredible feats of strength, as some of the torches can weigh up to 220lbs. The festival is also seen as a rite of passage for many youth, as they also carry torches up to Mount Kurama.
7. Kanamara Matsuri (Japan)
If you’ve ever known any female friends who have been to a bachelorette party, then you’ll know that certain women are known to suck on lollipops meant to look like male nether regions. Of course the Land of the Rising Sun would have an organized festival equivalent. Translated, Kanamada Matsuri means “Festival of the Steel Phallus.” The proceedings actually have their roots in the 17th century as prostitutes supposedly prayed to be kept safe from sexually transmitted diseases. Another more colorful tale speaks of a demon who fell in love with a beautiful woman. But spurned, the demon proceeded to rip away other men’s pride and joy until one day a local blacksmith forged a steel phallus breaking the demon’s teeth and vanquishing the demon forever. Today’s festival cob tunes that tradition actually and raises awareness about HIV and practicing safe sex. The Kanamara Matsuri is probably the largest parade of phallic-shaped structures that is not a pornography convention as both men and women and men dressed as women parade around with portable Shinto shrines made to look like penises and men and women also suck on phallic themed candy.
6. Hokkai Heso Matsuri: The Belly Button Festival (Japan)
If you have or know someone who has small children, then you know all about hippos and their love of belly buttons. They even take their belly Bs and head to Belly Button Beach! Believe it or not, there is an actual real life human equivalent— Hokkai Heso Matsuri: The Belly Button Festival! Starting in 1969, the festival has become one of the brightest spots during the summer in Hokkaido, Japan. In order to bring together the people of Funaro, festival organizers decided that they would bring their scattered population together using the center of the human being, the belly button, hence the Belly Button Festival was born, because Hokkaido’s belly button is Funaro. For the actual two day festival, the people of Funaro paint all kinds of silly faces on their stomachs and parade around town doing their variations of the Heso Odori (Bellybutton Dance) for prizes. What started as a small gathering of 11 people nearly 50 years ago has grown to over 5000 celebrating the center of their town.
5. Hungry Ghosts Festival (China)
As we all know plenty, if not all cultures, races, and religions have their belief structures about what happens to the dead once they are deceased. The Chinese have customs that date back several thousands of years. According to Daoist tradition, every year on the seventh month of the Lunar calendar, ghosts who are not resting peacefully descend upon the land and China celebrates by feeding these ghosts during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Generally falling in either July or August. In order to prevent ghosts haunting families, there are several ceremonies one can take part of. First, you have to grab your family’s ancestral tablet (think crest) and put it on a table while burning incense and prepping three meals throughout the day. Then at dusk, people will kneel at their tablets and basically confess their sins and report their behaviors to their ancestors. Dinner that night usually includes a place setting for their dearly departed loved one. It’s all part of Hungry Ghost month, where on the last day it is believed that the gates of hell have closed up again for another year.
4. Monkey Buffet Festival (Thailand)
Not all festivals and rituals date back to feudal and medieval times. Some just date back to a time before the Internet. In 1989 to drum up business, a local businessman, Yongyuth Kitwattananusont in Lopburi, Thailand had an idea to bring tourism to the region. His idea was a simple one— who doesn’t love monkeys? And the Monkey Buffet festival was born. A plethora of activities— dances and music and arts and crafts all dedicated to our simian friends. People dress like monkeys and wear monkey masks. Every November, people flock to a 10th century Khme Dynasty temple, that is now overrun with monkeys— crab eating and long tailed Macaques to be exact and they co-exist with the population of Lopburi and aren’t shy about “borrowing” food from their neighbors either. But on festival day, the buffet is all for the little guys. Every year, Yongyuth wants to make the spectacle even bigger and in 2013, he dressed like a monkey and parachuted into the festival proceedings. Clearly, the monkeys don’t care how big the feast is nor how it impacts tourism, they’re just happy to gorge themselves!
3. Surin Elephant Festival (Thailand)
In America in November, most families are getting ready to eat Turkey and start their Christmas shopping. But in the Surin Province of Thailand, the town is gearing up for the Elephant Round Up Festival. The origins of this festival date back to Medieval Times in the region where the royal family converted their wild elephant hunts into public spectacle using tame ones instead. The fun commercialized touristy version of the festival first happened in 1960 as an answer to elephant wranglers economic importance declining. The people of the region were very adept at training pachyderms to be working animals and when elephant labor (luckily) went on the decline, the elephant handlers of Surin began to seek jobs in the entertainment industry. The festival includes games like tug of war and soccer and hosts what is generally considered to be the largest elephant buffet in the world, why not, Surin is home to one of the biggest gatherings of elephants in the world! When Disney begins their inevitable live action remake of Dumbo, they’ll surely hire some of these mammoths and their masters.
2. Holi (India)
Every March, which correlates with the Bengali month Phalgun, the Indian people have one of the biggest parties of the continent that inspires Indian unity the world ’round. They get drunk off of local drink, bhaang, dunking their friends, eating, drinking, smearing their faces with all kinds of colors, and being as merry as they want to be. Sure sounds like Indian Mardi Gras, doesn’t it? The prevailing theory of why Holi is celebrated involves the Demon King Hiranyakashyap. He demanded respect from all his subjects, which he ruled through fear. His son, Prahlad wasn’t afraid and worshiped Vishnu instead. The king asked his daughter, Holika to kill her own brother because of his devotion to Vishnu and she tried to carry him into a fire. It was because of his devotion that he was saved and Holika was burned. Holi celebrates with a giant bonfire every year to commemorate the triumph of good over evil. Pranksters of the region can pretty much get away with anything during Holi, as the big saying is Bura na mano, Holi hai!’ (Don’t be sad/angry, it is Holi!
1. Boryeong Mud Festival (South Korea)
Any beautician worth their Younique mascara knows about the healing powers of mud. South Korea has an entire festival devoted to the wondrous effects that the dirt has on the skin. Beginning in 1998 to promote tourism in the city, festival goers have flocked to Daechon Beach, the largest beach on Korea’s west coast, to enjoy the clear waters of the coast. But another of the coast’s best properties is the mud and rejuvenating effects on festival goers, who every July enjoy two weeks of mud baths, mud massages, and enjoy the puddles and pools of mud. The only thing missing is a parade of mud people, but that could be considered the festival goers who are covered in mud! There’s even a giant slide to dive into a vat of the ooze itself. The festival is definitely not for people who don’t like getting dirty. There’s a ‘mud-Prison’ awaiting all of the people without a spec on them. For all the tourists longing for the return of the mud people from Woodstock, flock to Boryeong this summer.