People in Japan are known for being polite, but not at this weird winter festival.

There are many festivals in Japan at this time of year, but one of the weirdest is the Akutai Matsuri, which translates to Verbal Abuse Festival.

As the name suggests, verbal abuse and insults are a central feature at this festival, which is held at Iitsuna Shrine in Kasama City, Ibaraki Prefecture, on the third Sunday of December every year.

▼ Iitsuna Shrine sits at the top of Mt Atago.

Whenever the festival is held, crowds of locals gather to take part, playing the role of swearing onlookers, as has been the tradition since feudal times.

Organised by representatives of Atago Shrine, located in front of Iitsuna Shrine, the festival begins with thirteen priests dressed in white robes and black hats who represent tengu, long-nosed spirits who are believed to reside in the mountains.

▼ The route takes place up the slope to Mt Atago, which is home to “Atago Tengu Forest“, where the spirits are believed to reside.

Members of the group carry small offerings in straw mats, which they present at 16 small shrine outposts along the way. As they make their procession along the streets and up steep stairs, the locals shout insults at the robed walkers, with some common phrases being, “Bakayaro!” (“You idiots!“), “Osoi zo!” (“You’re so slow!“), and “Hayaku agare yo, kono yaro!” (“Climb faster, you bastards!“)

▼ “早く上がれよこの野郎!” (“Hayaku agare, yoko no yaro!”)

That’s not the only bad behaviour you’ll find at this festival, because when the priests stop to pray and present their offerings, the locals fight against each other to steal the gifts, which are believed to bring good luck. Locals are required to wait until the priest finishes praying before stealing the gifts, though, because if they don’t, this violation of the rules can result in injury, as the priest has the right to stop you with their green bamboo rod until the prayers have been said.

▼ It’s all part of the festival rules, which all participants are trusted to abide by.

Though the Verbal Abuse Festival is said to have started in the middle of the Edo Period (1603-1868) as a way for feudal lords to understand the daily grievances of residents, there is a limit to what can be said, as another rule is that people must refrain from using personal names to slander others.

That’s no problem for the locals and the many tourists who visit, though, as the opportunity to openly yell random insults at the top of their lungs provides an outlet for them to relieve pent-up stress at this unique festival. Despite the bad behaviour, it’s all done in good fun, with the priests gathering at the shrine at the end of their journey to don long-nosed tengu masks and throw gifts of snacks and rice cakes to the crowd.

▼ Check out Kasama City’s video of the festival below.

This year, the festival was held on 17 December, drawing bigger crowds than ever before, with foreign onlookers even yelling out insults in English. At the very end of the event, the crowd was encouraged to join the priests in yelling “Bakayaro!” (“Idiot!”) three times, with the insult ringing out through the sacred precincts in what has become the traditional way to end the festival.

So next time you’re visiting Japan in December, you might want to add a trip to Ibaraki to your itinerary. It may be ranked the least attractive prefecture in Japan, but that’s only because too few people know about its hidden gems.

Source: Kasama City via Hachima Kikou
Featured image: YouTube/チャンネル笠間
Insert images: YouTube/チャンネル笠間
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