The Naked Man Festival
Next Saturday night in Saiidaiji, Okayama, the Hadaka Matsuri returns for another evening of men running around in thong underwear while nearly freezing to death. Commonly referred to as the Naked Man Festival by foreigners, this Japanese festival is by far the most unique I have ever been involved in. With a group of ALTs from Tokushima, we signed-up for the festival two years ago and it was an experience I will never forget. Although referred to as the Naked Man Festival, participants are not fully naked. Each person is given a fundoshi, a very long white cloth wrapped up and around the naked body of a competitor. Similar to a loincloth worn by a Sumo wrestler, this piece of clothing is the only thing keeping festival participants warm from the cold of the winter. Surprisingly, fundoshis are quite comfortable and are now my preferred choice for undergarment. Just kidding.
Like most Japanese festivals, heavy drinking is customary and required for this event in my opinion. The evening kicks-off around 8pm, as participants prepare for a ritualistic tour of the temple grounds. By 10pm, thousands of men can be seen running and chanting in groups. The male bonding experience requires several jumps into a pond for cleansing purposes. Followed by visits to the main pavilion, where wishes are shouted to the gods. After which, the pack makes their way around the temple grounds, paying their respects to the two deities Senju Kannon and Goousho Daigongen. While running, they are doused by the temple priests with holy water. This whole process is repeated for hours, with men running in all directions, while thousands of spectators watch.
The finally of the event takes place at midnight, where all the non-frozen participants make their way to the main pavilion. Clearly not capable of holding the number of people trying to enter, pushing and shoving is necessary in order to hold one’s ground. Fights breaking-out are not uncommon at this stage as testosterone levels reach an evening high. Men get pushed off the edge of the pavilion, pushed down stairs, trampled and squashed for the chance of obtaining New Year’s prosperity through the power of blessed magic sticks (a shingi). At the strike of midnight, the lights are switched off, and the glowing magic sticks are thrown in the air by the temple’s priest. There are several sticks thrown in the air, with two being the most coveted. The lights come back on, and everyone tries to wrestle away the sticks, which results in utter mayhem. Having never seen the end, apparently the winners are the men who manage to return the shingi across the temple grounds, and into the hands of the waiting priest.