Asia 22 – The best of the rest

The best of the rest (2)


Where? India

When? October

How long? 10 days

A classic good-versus-evii spectacle, this Hindu festival celebrates Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana, as described in the Ramayana. Effigies of Ravana and his family are filled with firecrackers and attacked by people dressed up as Rama, whereby the whole lot goes off in a giant explosion accompanied by the approving roars of the assembled throng. Each region interprets the festival slightly differently, although Mysore, Karnataka, is one of the best places to be.

Hadaka Matsuri

Where? Japan

When? Jantsasry

How long? 1 day

The Hadaka Matsuri (literally, the “naked festival”) is one of Japan’s more peculiar events, taking place in many towns across the country at this time. It’s a Shinto festival, and a test of manhood and a purification ritual, and although the details differ from town to town, it generally involves the local men and boys stripping down to their ioin-cloths and doing something completely inappropriate for the time of year, when it’s bitter cold in most parts of the country: jumping and chanting, getting doused in cold water, swimming in the sea or prostrating themselves on blocks of ice. The best-attended Hadaka Matsuri is held in Inazawa, on Honshu, in which some ten thousand naked men compete to touch the so- called Shinotoko, or Chosen One, in the belief that this will bring them good luck in the year to come. Other places to head for include Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and even the far northern, freezing city of Sendai, where they at least have a bonfire to warm up to. If you’re here at this time of year, there’s nothing like it.

Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Where? Harbin, China

When? Early January

How long? 1 month

This exhibition of fabulous sculptures carved from snow and ice, including life-size figures and even exact reproductions of Chinese temples, has been going on for twenty years in the Manchurian city of Harbin. It’s spectacular if you can stand the freezing temperatures – sometimes plummeting 40 degrees below – and opened in style with a huge firework display and then closed at the beginning of February when attendees get the chance to smash everything up with ice-picks.


Where? India

When? June or July

How long? 2 days

Held all over the subcontinent, this Buddhist festival is at its best at Hemis, Ladakh, one of the most important and remote monasteries in India. Honouring the birthday of the founder of Tibetan Buddhism, its parades and lavish masked dances also celebrate the triumph of good over evil. Hemis’ monastery alone is worth the trek, but to come here during the festival is special.

Hounen Matsuri

Where? Komahi, Japan

When? March

How long? 1 day

It’s no-holds-barred at this annual spring celebration of the penis at Komaki, just outside Nagoya, in which a giant, three-metre-high wooden dong is tugged around town on a mikoshi, or portable shrine, to the town’s Tagata temple, and everyone sucks happily on phallic-shaped sweets and dainties – and drinks prodigious amounts of sake. The festival dates back to the seventeenth century, when local prostitutes figured they should offer something to the gods to avoid getting STDs; nowadays, it’s an HIV/AIDS fund-raiser, a lure for couples hoping for children, and a saucy day out all round. Everyone’s fairly drunk by the time the parade starts, which makes its way to the shrine to deliver the giant penis; there are women carrying their own, smaller penises, all of them 36 years old (apparently a bad age for conception), and a host of men (all of them 42 – another bad age) carrying the phallus. Once it has been delivered to the temple, dignitaries throw rice cakes to the baying mob below and the whole event turns into a giant food-fight.

Loi Krathong

Where? Sukhothai, Thailand

When? November 11

How long? 1 day

Seeking forgiveness from the Mother of the Waters for the filth poured into her rivers the rest of the year, Loi Krathong witnesses millions of tiny boats, made of flowers and leaves and loaded with candles, launched into rivers and harbours around the country under a watchful full moon. You’ll certainly be aware of the event wherever you are, as houses and wats everywhere are decorated with streamers and lights, but one of the best places to observe the festival is the atmospheric city of Sukhothai, the first Thai capital, situated on the Yom river 480km north of Bangkok. Here, the ruins of the ancient capital are lit up with fireworks and a pretty nifty son et lumiere.

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