In the port town of Numazu in Shizuoka Prefecture, a very strange festival is held each April. The local fisherman don women’s clothes, board brightly decorated fishing vessels, and make the boats “dance” around the bay, all while singing and dancing on deck for the spectators. The tradition is said to bring safe seas and good catches to the town. Or curious tourists, at the very least.

The boats are festooned with bright red and white banners that indicate a good catch, as well as cedar boughs. They set sail from local harbors and gather in Osezaki Bay.

The fishermen paint their faces white and put on women’s nagajunban, or under-kimono. They perform a traditional fan dance and chant along with drums and chimes. Once they reach their destination, they mount a stage and offer bream, yellowtail, other expensive fish, and sake as gifts to the gods.

According to the chief priest, Yoshiaki Nomura, the god enshrined at the local temple is male, so it is thought that the custom of wearing women’s clothing began because a male god would be pleased to see so many “women” dancing for him. This lively dancing festival dates back to the mid-Meiji Era (1868-1912).

If you can’t make it to Numazu to see this spectacle for yourself, check out these great videos.

Fan dancing

Dancing boats

Local news coverage

Source: Asahi Shinbun
Image and videos: YouTube