Apr 042016
 

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On this date every year the Ose Matsuri (Fishermen’s Festival) takes place at Uchiura fishing port, Numazu City, in Shizuoka Prefecture Japan. Fishing boats come from a wide area around Numazu City to take part in the festival. The boats are festooned with flags, streamers and other decorations. But what makes the event unique is that all the rough and tough fishermen dress in women’s clothes and dance aboard the boats. The event is said to ensure good catches and safe trips at sea for the coming year. It is not certain when the festival began or why, but local folklore has it that it originated when the wife of a fisherman gave her husband a kimono to ensure he was safe on his voyage. Take that for what it is worth.

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Festivals of gender inversion are quite common worldwide and have been studied extensively by anthropologists. Naturally there is often an element of humor, as at the Ose Matsuri – tough men acting in effeminate ways. But inversion of roles and categories can also be very powerful culturally.  They highlight traditional roles, and may involve men appropriating the power that conventionally belongs to women.

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I have not been to this festival but I have attended other fishermen’s festivals in Japan. They are raucous affairs that are very well attended and enjoyed by the public. There is always music, drumming ,and dancing. There is also a wealth of festival food.

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Food on a stick is very common because it’s easy to eat as you walk around. There’s the usual grilled offerings, but you can also get pickles or fruit on skewers. There’s also fish-shaped pastries made in molds that are closed around a dough and grilled.

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