Japan is famous for its colourful and enriching events and festivals. Wherever you may be visiting in Japan with its array of both local (matsuri) and national festivals, you are sure to be close to a celebration or marked occasion of some sort.
Hokkai Bellybutton Festival
Watch colourful and humorously dressed participants with naked bellies painted to look like funny faces strut their stuff in a bellybutton-themed dance festival in central Hokkaido.Hokkaido’s curious belly button-themed festival began in 1969, when the Furano area decided to create a new event to bring together the area’s residents, who are scattered in towns and villages across a large rural area, at the same time as reinvigorating the town and attracting more visitors.
Inspired by Furano’s location smackbang in the centre (“belly button”) of Hokkaido, they came up with the novel idea of a belly button-themed dance festival, and Hokkai Heso Matsuri (Hokkai Belly Button Festival) was born. While the festival struggled at first - attracting only eleven participants in its first year - it has gradually caught on, and is now one of Hokkaido’s most famous summer festivals, drawing people from around Japan and the globe. In 2016, nearly 5,000 dancers took part, with thousands more gathering to watch the festivities.
Participants bare their belly and paint it like a funny face, with moustachioed clowns, animals and Japanese characters such as Mario and Doraemon all popular choices. To enhance the look and make the illusion appear even more convincing, they also cover their real face and arms with a cloth like a hat, and wear a t-shirt or happi (festival jacket) with fake hands and arms protruding from the sleeves, producing a comical and ungainly sight.
Groups of dancers in matching costume designs parade down the street, performing numerous variations on the simple yet energetic Heso Odori (Belly Button Dance) devised by the festival founders. Competition gets quite intense, as dancers compete for a variety of prizes and glory in various categories. One of the festival’s interesting and humorous points is seeing how the faces painted on different people’s stomachs change shape and move according to each person’s body shape and movements.
Prospective festivalgoers who are keen to soak up the atmosphere of the festival from centrestage rather than the sidelines can apply to participate. The festival committee even provides “Belly Button Dance Sets”, or participants can bring their own belly paints, straw hats and happi. Apply here: www.furano.ne.jp/hesomatsuri
The rules stipulate that in order to join the parade participants must draw a face on their stomach (or a white t-shirt if they prefer) with their belly button as the mouth and conceal their real face and arms under a straw hat or similar covering. It even provides detailed instructions for creating the all-important “Stomach Art” on its website: www.furano.ne.jp/hesomatsuri/en/stomach
Furano extends a warm welcome to prospective observers looking to attend its festival, noting that, “All things have a center; for a person, this is the bellybutton. Hokkaido's bellybutton lies in Furano. Join us for this unique, humorous and unforgettable spectacle.”
Late JulyDates and functions are subject to change without notice. Be sure to check the latest information in advance.