My prefecture, Okayama, is not the most well-known in Japan. Many Japanese people don’t really know where it is, other than a stop on the Sanyo Shinkansen line. But, mention of one festival in February will often help trigger people’s knowledge of where Okayama is, or at least realize they have something they unknowlingly can associate it with. The third Saturday in February each year thousands gather into a temple in Saidaiji in hopes of claiming their good luck and fortune for the year. This good luck and good fortune is achieved through retrieval of a shingi- a stick that is dropped amongst the thousands who hope to retrieve it and bring it out of the temple and through the gates for the promised good year. And if you’ve ever tried navigating through a crowded club, concert, or any other gathering in which personal space is nonexistent and everyone is trying to push their way to the desired point you know this isn’t easy.
Then, imagine doing this all in nothing but a fundoshi, a Japanese loin cloth (think sumo wrestlers) (no shoes either), in 5C (40F) temperatures, after running through water 3 times for cleansing. Oh, and all participants are men.
Now you’ve got the Hadaka Matsuri: Naked Man Festival!
As this is the event of the year, of course I couldn’t miss it. My friends and I headed to the temple to watch the festivities and cheer on a few of our friends who were brave enough to do it (and of the appropriate sex). It was a typical Japanese festival- big crowds, loud chanting, fireworks, taiko drums. tons of overpriced and delicious Japanese street food, hot sake, cold beer, and this one’s added bonus- naked men! There was an abundance of butts seen as the groups trotted towards the temple, chanting “Washoi!” (which roughly translates to “let’s go”, but is mostly just a cheer/chant to get amped up before an event). The build up was pretty intense- they closed off entry to the spectator sections by 9:30 (the shingi drop was at 10:00) and we all watched as more and more naked men piled into the crowded temple, watching them sway, some fall, some hold onto the temple columns for dear life. What impressed me greatly was the lack of fighting that happened (there was one). I can’t imagine having something like this in North America without multiple men throwing punches. You could see the steam from the body heat being carried out of the temple by the night’s brisk breeze.At 10:00, right on schedule (of course, it is Japan), the lights in the temple went out and everyone tried fruitlessly to identify where the shingi was (there are multiple dropped but one especially lucky one), watching the men scramble more than before as the camera flashes were the only thing lighting the temple. And within 10 minutes, it was over. The shingi was brought through the gates and the night was completed successfully with minimal injuries (as far as I know…)