Asia is a truly magical place. It’s also the very definition of madness. The word “outlandish” doesn’t even begin to cover half of the things that go down on Earth’s largest and most populous continent, and to be completely honest with you, we honestly wouldn’t have it any other way.
Potentially one of the craziest things about Asia is its festivals. Rather than our relatively laidback music and food festivals, people on the other side of the world like to do things a little differently. Instead of films or beer, they like to celebrate things in life like penises, crying babies and corpses. Before you say it, no, I’m not kidding – you’re just going to have to see them to believe them.
The Kanamara Penis Festival
Every April in Japan, Japan celebrates fertility in a unique manner. Namely, by heralding the penis. Bizarrely, you’ll find hundreds of people parading massive phallic-shaped mikoshi (portable Shinto shrines) down the streets, sucking on penis-shaped lollies, buying penis-shaped memorabilia and posing with penis-shaped statues to raise awareness about safe sex practices and fundraise money for HIV charities. Possibly the weirdest festival in Asia, it is said by the BBC to find its roots in the 17th century when prostitutes prayed for protection from sexually transmitted infections at Kawasaki’s Kanamara shrine.
The crying baby festival
There are few sights more bizarre to behold than the Nakizumo festival in Japan where mammoth sumo wrestlers take part in a competition to be the first to make a baby cry. Squaring up on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators, they goad the young children into bawling by employing bewildering tactics like weird noises or faces, using masks, tickling them, lightly shaking them and shouting “Naki! Naki! Naki!” – “Cry! Cry! Cry!” So is there any particular reason behind this madness? Rather than being cruel, the experience is said to be cathartic for the babies and good health is said to come to those who enter.
Crying baby festival
The digging up corpses festival
All normality goes out of the window on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi when they celebrate the digging up the corpses festival – or the Ma’nene festival – every three years. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin; in a celebration of life, locals dig up their relatives, afterwards dressing them up in their favourite clothes to pay respect to them. As hard as it is to believe, what looks like a post-apocalyptic zombie movie to us is completely normal to them.
The festival where they give thanks to their dogs
We all love our canine friends more than life itself (and more than most other humans), so the question is, why don’t we have a festival to celebrate them like the Nepalese do? The five-day Tihar festival celebrates the triumph of light, good and knowledge over evils and its second day is devoted specifically to give thanks to dogs, who are believed to be messengers of the god of death, Lord Yamaraj. Adorably, the pups are all given garlands, treats, and marked with a tilak. Hands up if you think we should adopt this fabulous tradition.
Giving thanks to dogs in Nepal
The hungry ghosts festival
In Southeast Asian countries like China, the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is the time when deceased ancestors come out of the lower realm for their descendants to pay homage to them. The ghosts still hanging around are believed to be angry, or hungry, so people burn things like food, money and even luxury goods to satisfy them; iPhones, houses, designer handbags and flashy cars have also become increasingly popular offerings in recent years.
The naked festival
Make way for yet another peculiar 500-year-old Japanese festival. The Hadaka Matsuri, or Naked Festival as it has become widely known as, sees a priest throw “lucky batons” into a crowd of men dressed only in loincloths. Afterwards, the nearly naked men will fight it out between themselves. Those who manage to catch a lucky baton and thrust it in a wooden measuring box (the winners are dubbed “fuku otoko”) are believed to have good fortune for an entire year.
Men fighting for baton
The piercing festival
The Thaipusam festival is the one that takes facial piercings to extreme lengths. The widespread Hindu festival, which celebrates Lord Murgan, the Hindu god of war, is mind-boggling to watch. Onlookers sit back and gaze in amazement as partakers pierce their tongues, cheeks, and faces with sharp objects like swords, chains, cleavers rifles and skewers. The crazy thing? It’s reported that people who take part feel no pain as they are under the protection of the deity who will not allow them to shed blood.
The mud festival
Colloquially known as Mudfest, the Boryeong Mud Festival welcomes millions of revellers who fly over to Seoul especially to romp around in sludge. According to the people who take part, mud is renown for its ability to refresh the skin and soothe the soul. Either that, or it’s just really fun to roll around in…
So, do you believe me now? Shockingly, as utterly bizarre as they all sound, they are actually real events that take place across the world. I know, only in Asia…