May 5-10, 2011: South Korea’s Hi Seoul Festival, is an annual contemporary arts sponsored by the Seoul Foundation for Arts & Culture. It is held along the famed Hangang River (Yeouido, Banpo, and Seonyudo areas) and in downtown Seoul. Since its theme is non-verbal performance, it can be easily enjoyed by visitors from around the world. Visit www.hiseoulfest.org
May 6-10, 2011: The Yeon Deung Hoe or “Lotus Lantern Festival” is held at various temples around Seoul, Korea. It is a thousand-year old folk festival that began during the Shilla Dynasty. It showcases the meticulous and exquisite advancements of lantern making. Try making lanterns yourself and experience the 100,000 Lotus Lantern parade featuring hand-held lanterns to enormous lantern floats (May 7). Join the singing and dancing initiated by Lotus Lantern performance groups, and finally attend the Buddha’s birthday Dharma Service on May 10.
May 15, 2011: The Aoi Matsuri or Hollyhock Festival is one of the three big festivals in Kyoto, Japan. The others are the Gion Matsuri (July 1-31) and the Jidai Matsuri or Festival of Ages (October 22). The name “Aoi,” of this “ritual to pray for good harvest,” literally means “hollyhock leaves.” It was so named because when it was founded in 567, the original costumed participants were decorated in hollyhock leaves. The main attraction is a procession of about 500 people adorned in Japanese ancient court dress.
May 15, 2011: Celebrated annually in Lucban, Quezon, Philippines, the Pahiyas fetes San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers, in thanksgiving for abundant harvests believed to have been made possible through his intercessions. The term “pahiyas” literally means decorating the walls of houses with “kiping,” a native delicacy made from ground rice and flour then dyed in various radiant colors. Also in full display during the celebrations is various agricultural produce from the locality along with homemade mannequins depicting the lives of farmers. The locals believe dressing up their homes during the festival ensures special favor and blessing by San Isidro in the coming year so they try to outdo each other with their creativity in friendly competition to ensure better fortunes.
May 21-22, 2011: Tokyo, Japan’s Sanja Matsuri, is one of Tokyo’s largest festivals, held at Asakusa Temple. “Mikoshi” or portable shrines are carried throughout the streets.
June 6, 2011: The Dragon Boat or Tuen Ng Festival is one of the biggest festivals throughout China and the Chinese Diaspora, including Taiwan and Hong Kong. It is held on “Duan-wu,” which is the fifth day of the fifth Lunar Month. In Mainland China, good places to see the festivities are along the Mi Lo and Yangtze Rivers, especially in Hunan Province. The festival commemorates the death of a popular Chinese national hero, Qu Yuan, who drowned himself in the Mi Lo River over 2,000 years ago to protest against corrupt rulers. Legend has it that as townspeople attempted to rescue Qu Yuan, they beat drums to scare fish away and threw dumplings into the sea to keep the fish from eating his body. The most exciting aspect is the Dragon Boat Race, where the winning team hangs from the Dragon Head on their boat to grab the victory flag. The celebrations go late into the night with fireworks and traditional food – especially zongzi dumplings and dancing.
July 1-4, 2011: In Japan, the Tanabata or Star Festival is held either in July or August, depending upon the location. In Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo, over a million people annually attend the Shonan Hiratsuka Tanabata . The town hosts several parades and is crowded with colorful bamboo branches hung with colorful decorations that are illuminated at night.
July 16-24, 2011: Since 1997, South Koreans and foreigners alike have been celebrating the Boryeong Mud Festival in the town of Boryeong, about an hour to two hour drive south of Seoul. In addition to all the mud fights, mud wrestling, and mud fun, there is live entertainment, music, contests, exciting nightlife and fireworks. Visit www.mudfestival.or.kr
AUGUST: The three greatest festivals in the Tohoku region of Northern Honshu, Japan are the Tanabata Festival in Sendai, the Kanto Festival in Akita, and the Nebuta Festival in Aomori. These festivals are held the first week in August every year. During Nebuta and Aomori, Japanese “washi” paper floats depicting Kabuki characters or historical figures light up the night sky along with spectacular fireworks. At the Kanto Festival, 23 Kanto bamboo poles are risen 15 meters to the tone of bamboo flutes and cheering crowds. They are toped with swirling “Gohei” or paper cut lanterns weighing as much as 50 kilograms – the same as one straw-bagful of rice.
August 14, 2011: The Hungry Ghost Festival or Chung Yuan with roots in Taoism, is also held throughout the Chinese “empire,” derives from Chinese superstition that during this month, the gates of Hell are open for 2-way traffic and certain activities – such as shouting and whistling and activities near water – where the damned souls dwell — are high risk for being dragged into the Underworld. Half-way through the month, a massive party is held to keep the spirits jovial. Floating lanterns filled with Lotus flowers and candles are placed on water and also in the air. Streets and homes are lavishly decorated to pay homage to ancestors and banquets abound and people leave money and graven images in graveyards. The money (often fake symbolic money) is then burned at night in the hope of driving out the money-hungry demons.
South Korea likes body painting –whether it’s with mud or make up. August 27-28, 2011: The Daegu International Body Painting Festival, is the largest body painting festival in the world. While there is some nudity, if you are looking for pornography, this is not it. Instead you will find tasteful displays of award-winning gorgeous body art.
For more information on East Asian festivals for the summer or beyond, contact the respective tourist boards below or visit their websites. For Japan call: 212-757-5640 or visit www.japantravelinfo.com. For Korea call: 800-868-7567, or visitwww.visitkorea.or.krr; For China call: 212-760-9700, or visit www.cnto.org; For the Philippines call: 212-575-7915, or visitwww.tourism.gov