Hadaka matsuri   裸祭り

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Hadaka_Matsuri in Saidaiji


Kounomiya Hadaka matsuri

Saidai-ji Matsuri , Okayama

Saidai-ji Matsuri, Okayama

A celebration of nudity

Hadaka matsuri have existed for several centuries and are held in many places in Japan, sometimes in summer but mainly in winter.

This is perhaps the most paradoxical side of Japan: known for their reserve, shyness, and their lack (if not dislike) of physical contact, the Japanese appear quite different when they participate in a matsuri (festival). Shouting, showing off, half-naked, huddled together when they gather to carry a mikoshi (shinto portable shrine), often half-drunk, they defy the stereotype of the "typical Japanese" behavior. And hadaka matsuri (nudity festivals), are an excellent example of this!

Originally rites of purification

These holidays differ slightly from one region to another, but all are led by men (no women in these celebrations of virility!) Wearing a short loincloth (called fundoshi) that serves as a thong. Summer festivals often involve parading a mikoshi (portable shrine) through the streets or sometimes carrying it to the sea.

See : Shintoism

The festivals that take place in winter include a purification ritual with water (most often with ice water!) Following which the "naked men", as they are named, fight to grab an object sacred (such as a stick, or ball) that has been blessed by a Shinto priest and is supposed to bring good luck. Formerly rites of purification or initiation, some of these festivals have become real shows, attracting thousands of people. They often include games in the mud, which adds to the joy of the participants as well as the spectators. As with other matsuri, there are food and drink stands and plenty of entertainment for children.

Shin-otoko , the Japanese scapegoat

It's said that more than a thousand years ago, the Japanese thought that nudity could drive away evil. In villages where disease or misfortune prevailed, a villager was chosen to walk naked through the village and "reap" all the misfortunes of the inhabitants. He was called the shin-otoko (literally "divine man"). He was then banished, and it was hoped that he would take all the evils with him... As incredible as it may seem this belief has persisted, and every year in cities where a hadaka matsuri takes place, a shin-otoko parades naked, in the heart of winter, and all the "naked men" and spectators try to touch him, as he is supposed to have magical powers ward off evil...

Winter hadaka matsuri

These are the most fun to watch, since not only do these men spend long hours parading almost naked, but they are also often sprayed with ice water or roll about in the mud. Sometimes visitors even take up the challenge and participate in the event. Among the most famous of these "nudity festivals" are:

  • Saidai-ji Matsuri at Saidai-ji Temple, Okayama

The most impressive and the most famous festival. For more than 500 years, on the evening of the third Saturday in February, after parading in the streets of the city and being "purified" with cold water, some 9,000 almost naked men gather at Saidai-ji temple. At 10pm all the lights are put out and two sacred sticks, the shingi, and a hundred other lucky ones, are thrown by a Shinto priest into the crowd of men. What follows is an extraordinary melee, where these thousands of almost naked men wrestle with each other, trying to grab the sacred sticks from each other. The lucky ones are those who manage to keep hold of their stick and put it in a box filled with rice, called masu. This act is supposed to bring good luck for the year to come...

On the eve of this event at 6pm, boys from elementary schools in the city also hold a hadaka matsuri. Also dressed in simple loincloths, they must try and catch rice cakes and small gifts. There are a lot of spectators, and it's not easy to follow the event. However, you can reserve paid places in advance that provide a better (and safer) view!

Saidai-ji Temple is a 15-minute walk from Saidai-ji Station on JR Ako Line from Okayama Station.

Be prepared: the return trains are very crowded!

Saidai-ji festival, Okayama

  • Konomiya Hadaka Matsuri at Owari-Okunitama Shrine (Konomiya) in Inazawa, Aichi Prefecture

The small town of Konomiya near Nagoya is believed to be where the shin-otoko custom first originated. Legend has it that in 767 an inhabitant of Konomiya was designated as the scapegoat to stop a plague epidemic in the village. Since then, every year at the end of February, a young man is chosen to be the shin-otoko of the year. The poor man must walk completely naked in freezing weather, shaved from head to toe and pursued by a horde of men dressed in a single fundoshi, who fight to be able to touch him and transfer their bad luck!

From Nagoya Station, take the Meitetsu Nagoya Line towards Ichinomiya and get off at Konomiya. Owari-Okunitama shrine is a 10-minute walk from the west exit of the train station.

  • Somin-sai at Kokuseki-hi temple in Oshu, Iwate prefecture

Over 1000 years old, this festival is also called "the festival of fire and naked men". It's supposed to bring good harvests and good health to the locals. Again held in February, men dressed in fundoshi fight frantically to catch a "sacred bag" (somin bukuro), supposed to bring good luck to the one who gets it. But before participating in this event, participants must walk a long snowy path while "purifying" themselves in an icy river with large buckets of water. They then warm themselves around the fire, surrounded by curious crowds.

Somin-sai is held annually in late February from 10pm to 7am. The battle for the "sacred bag" takes place at Kokuseki-hi temple. Direct access from Tokyo to Mizusawa-Esashi Station by JR Tohoku Shinkansen (2h45m) or from Morioka Station (30 min).

Sominsai festival

Somainsai festival

Summer hadaka matsuri

  • Hirakata no Doro Inkyo in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture

This festival is also supposed to bring joy and health to the inhabitants of Ageo municipality in Saitama prefecture. Only the task is easier, since it takes place in July. Half-naked men parade through the streets carrying portable shrines on their shoulders called inkyo, which they will then roll in the mud. It's a happy and colorful party!

The festival takes place on the second Saturday of July from 1pm to 7.30pm. 15 minutes by bus from JR Ageo Square Foot Station.

  • Ohara hadaka matsuri in Ohara, Chiba Prefecture

This is one of the most famous hadaka matsuri. Every third weekend of September, participants and spectators pray for good harvests and fruitful fisheries. The bearers of mikoshi are mostly dressed in a simple loincloth. The festival culminates in mid-afternoon on the Saturday, when the men throw themselves into the sea along with their portable shrines. They then make a final tour of the city. The party continues in the evening with fireworks and other festivities.

On Ohara Beach and Ohara Elementary School, Isumi, Chiba Prefecture. Take the Wakashio Limited Express from Tokyo Station to Ohara (about 70 minutes).

Ohara Hakada Matsuri, Chiba

Saidai-ji Matsuri, Okayama

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