Image credit: Boryeong Mud Festival organisers
There are all sorts of festivities in the world, and Asia has its fair share of unusual, even crazy-sounding annual rituals and celebrations. While some of the region’s festivals may not be all that well-known, they can be a lot of fun and allow the casual tourist to see a side of the locals that may otherwise not be apparent.
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With so many different cultures, religions, and reasons to celebrate squeezed into Asia, you’ll probably have no trouble coinciding your travels with an interesting festival. Here are five to consider.
Hokkai Heso Matsuri (Belly Button Festival) — Hokkaido, Japan
The festival of Furano Heso was born about 45 years ago, in an attempt to unify the people of Furano in Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido. Inspired by the geographical location of the city – Furano is located in the very centre of Hokkaido – the festival organisers came up with the concept of a dance featuring the bellybutton. The festival was named after the bellybutton after festival organisers realised that, like the body part, Furano also marked the centre of Hokkaido. Held on the 28th and 29th of July in downtown Furano near the Furano Station, visitors can watch the town come alive with thousands of people gathered in colourful (and whacky) costumes, dancing. The main feature of the festival is the bizarre and amazing stomach-art dance, where dancers prance about with large faces painted on their stomachs. The Hokkai Heso Matsuri Festival has become one of the main summer festivals to lookout for in Japan.
Boryeong Mud Festival — Boryeong, South Korea
Frolicking in mud can sound icky and tacky to many, but in a country obsessed with looking good it makes perfect sense. Well, at least once a year. The Boryeong Mud Festival was initiated in 1998, soon after various research institutions in South Korea had certified that the mineral-rich mud in Boryeong — specifically at the Daecheon swimming beach — has beneficial properties for human skin. Get knee-deep in mud and the spirit of the celebration by partaking in one of the many events such as mud wrestling, mud king contest, fireworks display and mud sliding — there’s plenty of fun for the whole family! This year marks the 17th edition of the festival and you can join in the revelry from 18th to 27th July. Don’t forget to pick up some Boryeong Mud products for the road!
Parade of the God of Medicine — Taipei, Taiwan
Also known as the Baosheng Cultural Festival, this event commemorates the birthday of Baosheng Dadi (Emperor), who was regarded as an extraordinary physician who ascended to heaven escorted by fairy cranes. On the 14th day of the third lunar month or the eve of the god’s birthday, a massive day-long parade takes place around mid-day, when gods arrive atop sedan chairs to pay tribute to Baosheng at Baoan Temple. The colourful and lively procession involving bands and folklore performance squads covers the Dalongdong and Dadaocheng neighbourhoods, and temples along the route will ready firecrackers to welcome the parading deities. On the actual day, there is a more solemn ritual that incorporates drumming, paying tribute to Baosheng’s miracles through songs, and the offering incense by officials. Around this period, the temple also organises free Chinese medicine clinics and seminars as well as related exhibitions, to benefit the community.
Naga Fireball Festival — Nong Khai, Thailand
Once a year in October, on Ok Phasa Day at the end of the Buddhist Lent, an amazing phenomenon takes place over the Mekong River separating Laos and Thailand. Bang Fai Phaya Nak or Naga fireballs, believed to be spewed by the waterborne serpent Naga, are repeatedly seen to emerge out of the waters and rise skyward before disappearing. Best observed from the Phon Phisai district, these glowing balls come in various sizes, from a small spark to flaming basketballs. The Naga Fireball Festival, complete with a bazaar with food stalls, competition for best-decorated river floats to honour Naga, boat races and lights and sound presentation, add to the charged atmosphere.
Omed-Omedan — Bali, Indonesia
In a relatively conservative society like Indonesia, public display of affection may not be commonplace, let alone a sanctioned day for kissing a member of the opposite sex. But in the Banjar Kaja village of Bali, the century-old tradition of Omed-Omedan or pulling celebrates mass kissing with lots of water. The ceremony takes place a day after Nyepi, of Day of Silence, and is meant to unite male and female youths in the village. The ritual starts with a word of prayer by the Hindu leader and with traditional music playing in the background, the single youths aged between 17 and 30 years with one gender on each side of the road then push towards the middle to pull and embrace for that sacred kiss. The rest of the villagers will dump buckets of water to liven the mood and possibly quell the smooching.