Yamanashi Bacon Festival

by Justin Ehringhaus

Inaugural Bacon Festival in Yamanashi Prefecture

The phrase "when pigs fly" is used to describe things or situations that are impossible or extremely unlikely to happen. Yet, "flying pigs" is something that happened in the realest of senses in 1960. When Yamanashi Prefecture was faced with several major typhoons, causing considerable damage to the region, the State of Iowa launched a rescue campaign, donating thirty five breeding hogs in order to help restart the prefecture's agricultural industry. Through the air and over the seas, these thirty five pigs made their way to the prefecture via cargo plane. And although it may seem impossible, these "flying pigs" not only helped to restart the prefecture's agricultural industry, but they also marked the beginnings of a sister state relationship, the first-ever relationship of its kind between the United States and Japan.

In 2017, almost sixty years later, Yamanashi Prefecture received yet another pig-related shipment from Iowa: two-thousand pounds of bacon. The shipment was followed by the arrival of a host of Iowan guests: the Chief Bacon Officer, the Face of Bacon, the Bacon Ambassador, and the Bacon Queen just to name a few. There had been no typhoon, however - so why such an emphasis on bacon? The answer requires some explanation.

Setting up before the bacon madness
The idea had started as somewhat of a joke. Perhaps "when pigs fly" was an oft-said phrase during the period of the it's conception. It had never been done before after all. But the idea gathered momentum, enough to become reality. Brooks Reynolds (Co-Founder of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival; Chairman of the Iowan Bacon Board; CEO of Oh Bacon LLC.; and known by his formal title, the Face of Bacon) had pioneered and led the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival along with his bacon-loving buddies beginning ten years back. Over the past decade, the bacon festival in Iowa has paved the way for bacon sampling, bacon lectures, bacon competitions, bacon beauty pageants, and everything and anything else bacon-related. Now, it is one of Iowa's most anticipated events of the year.

Scene at Yamanashi's first-ever Bacon Festival

Reynolds had been intrigued when he heard the story of the 1960 flying pigs between Iowa and Yamanashi. He wanted to share his state's beloved bacon festival with their sister state as a way to further their mutual exchange. 

Bringing the bacon festival from Iowa to Yamanashi was, of course, not a simple task. In February of 2017, Reynolds invited a delegation to Iowa to participate in the 10th Annual Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival. This delegation, led by members of Junior Chamber International Kofu (JCIK) and including university student volunteers, set up a popular booth at the festival to offer Iowans specialty products from Yamanashi as well as lessons in and demonstrations of kendama, a traditional Japanese children's toy. Seeing the festival firsthand, the delegation returned to Yamanashi with enthusiasm, intent upon spearheading the effort to actualize the bacon festival in their home prefecture. With some twists, of course.

The concept of "flying bacon" began to seem less and less impossible as the year went on. The delegation, now officially entitled The Bacon Festival Committee, worked tirelessly to recruit sponsors, plan for events, and advertise for the big day, which was set for Friday, November 3rd, 2017 (coinciding with Cultural Day, a national holiday in Japan).

Preceding the festivities, bacon festival representatives from both Iowa and Yamanashi made official courtesy visits to Vice-Governor Masegi Tamaki as well as to Kofu City Mayor Higuchi Yuichi. During the visit, gifts were exchange and prayers made that the festival would be a major success.

Sizzling bacon

Staff shirts

Finally, the day arrived when the scent of bacon filled the air. Thanks to the generous sponsors, two thousand pounds of bacon was available free for consumption to sample and snack on throughout the day. It was a perfect day, sunny but not overwhelmingly hot. The open space outside the prefectural government was filled with food trucks, live music, bacon-related merchandise and goods, pig-uniformed and parading children, and last but not least thousands of people enjoying bacon. The main stage was home to a host of performances: acapella groups, student bands, and the much anticipated Bacon Samurai contest, during which male participants battled to display their finest talents to win the heart and the vote of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival's 2016 Bacon Queen, Allison Schafer (who was also the sole judge of the contest).

Scene during the festival (left) / The Chief Bacon Officer's Bacon Lecture (right)

Off stage, a host of other events took place such as a silent disco (in which participating ravers wore headphones synced to the same soundtrack) and a bacon lecture (in which participating bacon scholars learned all about bacon from the Chief Bacon Officer, Marshall Porter). A cooking exchange and chef battle was also arranged between two teams, each consisting of one Yamanashi and one Iowan chef, whose task was create the most popular and unique Yamanashi-Iowan fusion recipe. The winning pair had wrapped Iowan bacon around Yamanashi grapes, creating a sweet and savory combo that won the vote of the crowd.

Outside the silent disco (and wearing bacon shorts)

The day had started with the oft-heard cheer of "OHHHH, BACON!" And this, of course, was also how it ended. After hearing speeches from Brooks Reynolds (the Face of Bacon), Higuchi Yuichi (Mayor of Kofu City), and Nakazawa Yuichi (Chief Director of JCIK), the many representatives and VIPs gathered on stage to lead the crowd in one last "OHHHH, BACON!" cheer.

It was recorded that Yamanashi Prefecture's Inaugural Bacon Festival attracted a crowd of over 12,000. As the 2018 Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival approaches, members of JCIK and student volunteers are busy preparing for their attendance. The delegation will once again plan to set up a booth, this time offering yet another specialty product from Yamanashi. They will also keep their eyes peeled and their minds open, for seeing and experiencing the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival firsthand will inspire ideas. And who knows, these ideas may just make their way all the way into the second bacon festival held in Yamanashi Prefecture. When it comes to this special event, nothing seems to be impossible - not even flying pigs.


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