Oddly Strangely Fun and Symbolic

One of the things I like about Japan is it’s collection of odd museums and odd traditional ceremonies.

My favorite museum is the Tobacco and Salt Museum (currently closed pending a move). It’s owned by Japan Tobacco, which controls 66% of Japan’s tobacco market and is, by law, at least 33% owned by the Japanese government. It is a testament to, well, two things usually considered bad for you in excess, although at least one is essential to survival (hint: not tobacco). It has displays of how Japan produced salt and a few floors of occasionally interesting displays on tobacco and tobacco culture in Japan. It also used to have one of the best cheap coffee shops in Tokyo. I hope the move hasn’t ruined it.

To satisfy two other cravings, I recommend what I call the Eat Beef and Shout Competition, which involves consuming delicious dead animal flesh and then going behind a bush and shouting anything you want as loudly as you can. Participants have been known to express their love for someone else or their contempt for their boss. Prizes are given to the loudest shouts.

Niigata, where I used to live has everything for the newlywed couple. Every March Tochio hosts the Hodare Matsuri (link may not be safe for work) in which women can ride, well, some wood carried aloft by some men. Hodare means, more or less, “male naughty bit” and newlywed brides are encouraged to, well, ride the wood, so to speak. Traditionally, the most dangerous moments in the festival occur when an attractive foreign woman, um, rides the tremendous woody, and all the photographers nearby trample each other to get the best pics for next year’s brochure.

Whereas newlywed brides in Niigata get to enjoy a tremendous woody, newlywed grooms in Niigata are thrown off cliffs. Every January 15th in Matsunoyama Hot Spring, newlywed grooms are marched to the top of a snowy cliff, given some booze, tossed up and down and then hurled off a cliff as part of the Muko Nage. The festival ends with a pile of rice straw being burned and everyone rubbing ash all over everyone else’s faces.

The symbolism is obvious: You are now at the peak of life, but soon marriage will cause you to start drinking. You will now fall from the peak of life to the bottom of life where your wife waits for you. Soon you will watch your dreams go up in smoke and have it rubbed in your face. Good luck! Happy marriage! (Something like that.)



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