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Asia is a continent rich with unique and exotic culture, traditions, cuisines and history.

The unique activities held in some parts of Asia are a way for us to retain our tradition and introduce the Asian culture to the world.

Festivals are a major aspect of a society as it is a way to keep the culture and traditions going for the future generations.

From paying respects to ones’ ancestors in the afterlife, to showing religious devotion via body piercings, here we’ve listed out the 5 most unique festivals in Asia.

Check them out!

1. Hungry Ghost Festival 

Hungry Ghost Festival Burning of the King of Hell1
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Famous in many Chinese-speaking countries, this festival is a traditional Buddhist and Taoist festival held on the 15th night of the seventh month. According to the Chinese beliefs, on this festival, many restless ghosts and spirit including those of the deceased ancestors, come out from the lower realm and roam around the world in order to find peace. So, to grant peace to these restless souls, the livings would prepare ritualistic food offerings, burn incense and joss paper – a papier-mâché form of material items such as clothes, gold and other fine goods – for the spirits. Other activities include releasing miniature paper boats and lanterns on a water surface in order to provide direction to the lost souls.

When: The 15th night of the seventh month in the lunar calendar (14th in southern China).

Where: China, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan

2. Thaipusam

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A Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community all around Asia on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai. 48 days before the festival, devotees will cleanse themselves through prayer and fasting and on the day itself, some of them will shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). The major element of this festival is the mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue, cheeks stomachs and chest with vel skewers. According to the tradition, the more pain you can endure, the more blessing will be showered onto you.

When: The full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February)

Where: India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Guadalupe, Reunion, Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar.

3. Kanamara Matsuri

Japanese Festival Kanamara Matsuri
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Directly translated as the Festival of the Steel Phallus with the male genitalia being the central theme of the event and is reflected in illustrations, candy, carved vegetables, decorations, and a mikoshi parade. Though the festival can be quite R-rated, the main purpose of the festival is to promote sexual health among the people. The festival always falls on the first Sunday of April and is based on an equally unique legend about a sharp-tooth demon and an iron phallus. It takes place at the Kanayama Shrine in Kawasaki, Japan which was popular among prostitutes who wished for protection against STDs. The festival used to be a small festival back then, but today it has become a famous tourist attraction in Japan and is used to raise money for HIV awareness.

When: The first Sunday in April

Where: Kawasaki, Japan only

4. Boryeong Mud Festival

mud festival
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Started in 1998, the Boryeong Mud Festival is actually an awareness scheme with the purpose of promoting skin care measures with the special mud found in South Korea. The mud is believed to contain important minerals which reduce wrinkles and remove excess oils from the skin. Over time, the festival attracted a number of tourists every year and now, it includes many fun activities with mud like; mud wrestling, mud sun-blocking, mud dancing, mud sliding, mud body painting contests, mud beauty contest, mud massages and even a mud sculpture contest.

When: July

Where: Boryeong, Chungcheongnam-do, South Korea only

5. Omed-omedan Festival

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Also known as “The Kissing Ritual”, the festival is derived from the Balinese language which means pull-pull – the tradition originates from a fight between a male and female pig which represents the push and pull of positive and negative elements. The ceremony is held by the young people of Banjar Kaja Sesetan, Denpasar, Bali and has been around for 100 years. However, it is not known when the mass kissing ritual was incorporated into the tradition. The festival has become sort of a meeting place for single lads and ladies and many couples are born through this tradition.

When: The day after Nyepi, Balinese “Day of Silence” which falls on March

Where: Bali, Indonesia only