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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Japan's Belly Button Festival

A Belly Button Festival in Japan? Sure... why not? But it's not just to celebrate the umbilical cord remnant to your momma-san... no... this Hokkaido festival celebrates the central point of the huge Japanese island to the north!

A way back in July of 1969, in the city of Furano, Hokkaido-ken, its citizens drew up a charter stating that Furano was the central point of all Hokkaido - which it apparently is.

And... since the belly button or navel is considered the central point of the human body, the citizens of Furano have designated their city the belly button of Japan.

In what must be a unique way to create tourism for its city, Furano quickly developed the Hokkaido Heso Matsuri (literally the Hokkaido Bellybutton Festival).

Now, we've missed the 2012 Hokkaido Heso Matsuri - it was in July - but let's talk about it now so you can plan accordingly for 2013... after all, even if you live in Japan, most of the readers of Japan - It's A Wonderful Rife probably don't live in Hokkaido. I could be wrong, of course... it's just a logical guess of who my readers might be.

The matsuri (Festival) was the brainchild of three locals: (surname first) Kurigama Shuho, Yokoh Eijiro and Morita Tohachi, who combined with folks in the Suzuran shopping district who wanted something totally unique to draw the folks

What they came up with was stomach art dance!

What's that? Take a look at the photo up above! Or the one below!

But... who the hell wanted to do that? Well, for that first matsuri, they managed to convince 11 young people to do it... and the rest was history!    

It's awesome!

What gets painted on? Well... anything from superheroes, to women to kabuki faces... the point is that the expressions change as you dance about. Ideally.

I could never do this unless I was making a bear face on my torso - what with me being a manly man covered in hair. It's also why I have never got a tattoo... where the hell would I put it? I do have a spot on my back that is shaped like Albania where there is no hair, however. Strange... I thought Albanians were hairy. I'm of Indian extraction... we're hairy... because that's important when you are from a country that routinely gets to be 40C.

Anyhow, my son said he wants a tattoo of his face done on his face so he would always look young. Sorry... that ain't happening... he did, however think that painting his torso up with a funny face was cool. He would so do the Heso Matsuri... but I would have to do it with him.

Y'know... 12 years ago before my wife spoiled my figure... I had/have the 48-inch chest... and then had a 32-inch waist... I would have done it... now... the face would be puffy with a four-day growth of beard!

Okay... enough self-deprecation... still, on the Furano website (HERE) - which is a little behind, having stopped listing data in 2011 (but does have great info) - they describe the application of the artwork - and show off some great images... implying that even I could make a perfect participant in the matsuri:
First, you paint your whole stomach with a white pigment from chest to a few centimeters below the navel.
Then apply powder over the whole body.

Paint the mouth, eyes and nose with black. On everybody's stomach, the bellybutton should be the "mouth".

Nice Kabuki face! Decorate the face with red, blue, yellow, pink, etc. Finish subtle tones with hands and cloth, and you're done!

Pretty cool. My only concern is whether the skin can still breath after the application of all of these paints - but whatever... I'm sure the participants will be too smashed on booze to care while the matsuri is on.

Every year, nowadays, some 4000 dancers participate - up from the 11 in its initial year, eh? - with some 70,000 tourists, making this the premier summer festival in Hokkaido.

Anyhow... should you wish to check out the festival, allow me to redirect you to the Furano Tourism website: HERE (they don't have information for the 2013 festival up yet... but knowing that the previous festivals have been weekend affairs and is always the last weekend of July, the festival for 2013 should be on July 27 and 28. 

YOU can participate in the drunken belly button dance - and if you do... drop me a line and let me know how it goes. Regardless... everyone should make Hokkaido a part of their destination when visiting Japan. From what my pal Matthew has told me - it's beautiful.

Andrew Joseph

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