Hadaka Matsuri also known as the Naked Man Festival is a Shinto tradition observed all around Japan. It is a celebration where thousands of men all over Japan strip down to loincloths called fundoshi or less. Some wear a short happi coat but can be seen rarely completely naked.
Participants in the festival do rituals to tests their manhood and bravery in order to secure luck throughout the year. To purify themselves, the participants sometimes immerse themselves in a river beforehand. Several half-naked men will carry a mikoshi or portable shrine into the river with them.
Naked festivals are held every year in dozens of places throughout Japan. It is usually in the summer or winter. The Hadaka Matsuri’s rituals vary from town to town. Let’s start with the most famous winter Hadaka Matsuri in Saidai-ji at Okayama where the festival originated.
Winter Hadaka Matsuri
Saidai-ji Matsuri at Saidai-ji Temple, Okayama
Celebrated yearly in the evening of the third Saturday in February. It is the most impressive and most famous Naked Man Festival for more than 500 years. Naked men with almost 9,000 participant parade in the streets of the city while being purified with cold water.
After the parade, they will gather at Saidai-ji temple. When it is already 10 pm, all the lights will be put out. Two sacred sticks called shingi and a hundred more will be thrown by a Shinto priest into the crowd of men.
Thousands of naked men will wrestle to try to grab the sacred sticks from each other. The lucky ones who will manage to keep hold of their stick and put it in a box filled with rice called masu are the ones that are believed to be lucky for the year to come.
Boys in the city from elementary schools also hold a Hadaka Matsuri. At 6 pm, the boys will be dressed in simple loincloths and they must try to catch rice cakes and small gifts.
Konomiya Hadaka Matsuri at Owari-Okunitama Shrine in Konomiya at Inzawa, Aichi Prefecture
Konomiya is a small town near Nagoya. The town is believed to be where the shintoko custom first originated. The legend said that the 767 inhabitants of Konomiya were designated as the scapegoat to stop an epidemic plague in the village.
Since then, during the end of February every year, a young man is chosen to be the shintoko of the year. The man must walk completely naked in the cold weather. They are shaved from head to toe and pursued by a horde of men dressed in a single fundoshi. The men will fight to be able to touch the chosen shintoko because they believe that it will transfer their bad luck.
Somin-sai at Kokuseki-hi Temple in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture
Held annually in late February from 10 pm to 7 pm, this Hadaka Matsuri festival is over 1,000 years old and also called the festival of fire and naked men. The festival is supposed to bring good harvests and good health to the locals.
Men will be dressed in fundoshi and will fight frantically to catch a sacred bag called somin bukuro at Kokuseki-hi temple. It is supposed to bring good luck to the one who can get it. Before the men can participate in the event, the men must walk first in a long snowy path while purifying themselves in an icy river with large buckets of water. After that, they will warm themselves around the fire surrounded by the curious crowds.
Summer Hadaka Matsuri
Hirakata no Doro Inkyo in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture
This is celebrated on the second Saturday of July from 1 pm until 7:30 pm. The festival is supposed to bring joy and good health to the inhabitants of Ageo municipality.
In this festival, half-naked men will parade through the streets carrying portable shrines on their shoulders called inkyo. Then they will roll in the mud. This is the simplest Hadaka Matsuri ritual.
Ohara Hadaka Matsuri in Ohara, Chiba Prefecture
The second most famous Hadaka Matsuri festival. It is celebrated every third weekend of September. Participants and the crowds pray for good harvests and bountiful fisheries. The bearers of mikoshi are mostly dressed in a loincloth.
The festival starts in the mid-afternoon of Saturday where men will throw themselves into the sea along with their shrines. Then, they will make a tour of the city. The festival continues with fireworks and other festivities in the evening.
Visitors during these festivals can also take up the challenge and participate in the event. These festivals are unique, not only because men parade half-naked to occasionally really naked. But they are also often sprayed with ice water and some even roll in the mud. Hadaka Matsuri is really an interesting and fun festival.