Celebrating the navel in Japan's "belly button"

SHIBUKAWA, Japan Mon Jul 28, 2008 5:29am EDT

SHIBUKAWA, Japan (Reuters Life!) - It was belly-up for thousands of people who indulged in a weekend of navel gazing at a festival dedicated to the belly button in central Japan.

Children and adults, many of them sporting painted stomachs, took part at the annual Belly Button Festival in Shibukawa, north of Tokyo, where dancing in the streets is compulsory.

"The belly button is traditionally believed to be located in the middle of the body and the most important part. Our town, Shibukawa, is also called the belly button of Japan, and that is how this festival began," said festival organizer Kazuo Yamada.

The festival is based on a traditional Japanese form of entertainment where revelers paint a face on their torsos and stomachs and pretend it is a head.

A kimono is then wrapped around the waist and the person's real head is hidden by a large cloth hat. The belly button is traditionally painted into a mouth.

These days, modern motifs and Japanese anime designs have crept in to the festival, which city officials said is all about having fun.

"It's about everyone doing something together. But it's essentially pretty silly so it's just about having fun and going for the ride," said Hironori Kanou, a 26-year-old city hall employee who was walking around with a painted belly.

The only thing festival-goers take seriously is dancing: participants sashayed through the streets of Shibukawa for over two hours in the sweltering heat.

(Writing by Olivier Fabre, editing by Miral Fahmy)

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