Ushiku Kappa Matsuri
Of all the times that I could have arrived at my new home in Ushiku, Japan, luck would have it that it fell the day before the Kappa Matsuri; Ushiku’s weekend-long festival devoted to Japan’s resident reptilian butt-fetishist.
You read that right.
To clarify, Kappa isn’t a person who is obsessed with reptile butts. On the contrary, it is a creature from the watery depths that is obsessed with human butts. There, doesn’t that make more sense now?
A Bit of History
According to the legends, the Kappa is a reptilian humanoid resembling a cross between a turtle, a human, and what I can only assume is Howard the Duck. It enjoys such mischievous acts as pulling small children into the water and peeking up women’s kimonos. Oh, and its favorite food is cucumbers. Now stick with me, because here is where it gets weird.
The only thing in the world that the Kappa craves more than cucumbers is human butts. More specifically, the magic soul-containing orb that conveniently resides in your butt. That, or it’s after a quick route to your liver. I’ll be honest, the jury is out on this one.
Either way, if you drop a 100 yen coin near a marsh in Ushiku, cut your losses and head home.
The Kappa of Today
Fast forward to today, and like all other deadly monsters in Japan, the Kappa has undergone the Pokemon treatment and the results are, well… kind of adorable.
Now the official mascot of Ushiku, the Kappa’s face adorns everything from city government promotional material to manhole covers.
Now that you understand the wonder that is the Kappa, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “I want to party with this guy”. Well Ushiku is way ahead of you. What better way to say “thanks for not pilfering our nether regions” than to throw a two-day celebration in its honor?
Welcome to the Kappa Matsuri.
Held every year in the summer, the Kappa Matsuri sees thousands of parade-goers flood the streets of downtown Ushiku, marching up and down the road to the Kappa Bayashi song. Just in case that doesn’t immediately make perfect sense, here’s a video.
The song plays for almost ten minutes before it comes to an end and the marchers take a short break. A few minutes later, the song starts back up and the process repeats. For hours. All weekend.
I watched it both nights and I’m still not convinced that it wasn’t just a bizarre fever dream I had.
My own lack of understanding aside, the senses required no translation of the goings-on. A sea of colorful yukata spread out before me as far as the eye could see. In the face of total outsider confusion, the question of “why” gave way to “how” as I watched thousands participate in the choreographed march and accompanying chant.
Equally vying for my attention was the seemingly endless variety of food stalls lining either side of the road. With the perfect mix of delicious and inexpensive, I had found my happy place. Stir fried soba noodles? Yes please. Dorayaki filled with red bean paste? Don’t mind if I do. A frozen banana dipped in pink chocolate? A bit phallic, but hey, when in Rome.
All in all, the Ushiku Kappa Matsuri was a fantastic (albeit slightly confusing) introduction to my new home. If this is just the tip of the iceberg, I can’t wait to see what else this country has in store for me.
So if you happen to find yourself in Japan near the end of July next year, swing by Ibaraki for this mythical block party.
Oh, and don’t forget to bring a cucumber.