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Awarded ‘50 Tours of a Lifetime’ by National Geographic Traveler Magazine.
The best Japanese festivals range from the bright and colorful to the outright strange. While some cultures from around the world will be ringing in the new year with champagne and grapes, one city in Japan prefers loin cloths, a fight for good fortune and plenty of buckets of cold water.
The Tamaseseri Festival takes place in the southern city of Fukuoka. Held on Jan. 3 every year at the same shrine, two teams of men clad only in loincloths will push and shove for a wooden sphere slightly larger than a basketball, according to YokaNavi, Fukuoka's official tourist information website. One team comprises farmers while the other, fishermen. Whoever brings the ball to the Shinto priest will win his team either a year of good harvest or good catch, depending on the team.
The annual tradition dates back 500 years, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, and supposedly harks back to the legend of Empress Jingu receiving two balls from a dragon god. There are two balls in the festival as well, one representing yin and the other, yang. The yin ball is taken to the Tamatori Ebisu Shrine by a group of children, while the yang is fought over by the men.
The fight for the ball is chaotic and exhilarating. It's also a slow march, as dozens of men form a huddled mass in their migration toward the priest. Everyone is pushing inward, even some spectators. Apparently, it is good luck to touch the ball, and even more good fortune to lift the ball over one's head. Spectators jostle to touch it, while teams try to raise it. Meanwhile, men in the center of the mass lift each other on their shoulders to grapple for the ball. The scene becomes even more hectic as people throw cold water on the half-naked men and any bystanders.
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Embark on this exploration of Japan's highlights, with the support of local guides, comfortable train transportation, and enough down time to truly get lost in the land of the rising sun.
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