From its origins as a regional festival in the backwaters of Aomori Prefecture, the B-1 Grand Prix has attained a status of Fuji Rock-like proportions. The seven-year-old event, which attracts enthusiasts of local cooking from around Japan, almost single-handedly kick-started the country's obsession with B-kyu gurume (B-grade gourmet). The last two editions, in Kanagawa and Hyogo prefectures, drew nearly half a million people each.

Yet when this year's B-1 Grand Prix opens in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture, on Oct. 20, the emphasis will shift from regional cuisine to regional culture. Visitors will be able to enjoy, alongside the noodle dishes and rice bowls that have made the event famous, locally produced crafts and live stage performances.

"We're taking a more holistic approach this time around," says Shinichi Tawara, executive director of the Ai B League, which organizes the event. "People know it as Japan's biggest food festival, but we say it's just a great get-together."