Hadaka Matsuri - Naked Festival
Hadaka MatsuriBy: © Michael J. Rosen 2014
"Tattoos Bring Everyone Bad Luck."
Another of Japan's naked festivals, the hadaka at Saidaiji Temple in Okamaya is, once again, all about luck. Except, instead of sharing good fortune, for one night, every February, 10,000 tattoo-less men gather at the Buddhist temple to fight for it: One of two sacred sticks (shingi) said to guarantee luck for the possessor. (The last sticks on record as creating such fanaticism were ones Ringo Starr threw into a mob of teenage girls.)
Participants change in a dressing tent, where "volunteers" spend hours giving wedgies to all the men. The loincloth (fundoshi) is so tightly secured around the waist and between the buttocks that there's little chance of donning the requisite socks (tabi) if you'd forgotten them.
The 500-year-old tradition is said to date back to times when priests, after the completion of ascetic training at the temple, received paper amulets (Go-o) as a token of their accomplishment. Later, at festivals held on the temple grounds, priests began distributing the symbolic talismans to worshipers. Annually, as the crowds grew larger and the amulets more lucky, apparently, the crowds became more and more aggressive in trying to obtain the papers. Over the years, folks realized that a pair of sticks was less like to tear than paper.
Today, wrestling for the shingi is preceded by a night of festivities - a mob of boys wrestle for rice cakes (mochi, which are never apple cinnamon or cheddar cheese), fireworks explode (probably to a patriotic soundtrack featuring the Japanese equivalent of Bruce Springsteen), and competitors ritually cleanse themselves in the nearby Yoshi River, despite the February temperature, which hovers around freezing. Yes, a few cups of warm sake helps.
Participants then run laps around the temple to visit the different Buddhist deities before entering the main room to jockey for the best positions. At midnight, the lights go off and the shingi are tossed into the crowd, where, for exactly one hour, the horde jostles for the holy sticks, all the while chanting the traditional, "Wasshoi! Wasshoi! Wasshoi!" - the Japanese equivalent of "Heave ho!" Some duck under people's legs. Some climb over others' heads. Some men work together in teams; it's easy to imagine them drawing up the X's and O's of their strategy. (Try not to imagine John Madden in a loincloth.) Some offer bribes to fellow competitors: "Fifty-five hundred yen? Sure that'll get me a kid's pass to Tokyo Disneyland, but..." Many end up bruised or bloodied.
At the end of the melee, any man who managed to thrust a shingi into a wooden box full of rice (masu) is said to be the luckiest in Japan. And the luck spreads! A pregnant woman who wraps herself in a festival-worn fundoshi will give birth to a healthy child. A field will yield a bountiful harvest if the dirt tracked into the temple is sprinkled there. And, despite the countless germs that an hour's worth of bumping, wrestling, and "ritual cleansing" in a frigid river provides, 10,000 participants are guaranteed a year without a cold.
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Hadaka MatsuriBy: © Amy Chavez 2014
Talk about male bonding! Have you ever gotten together with your buddies, stripped down to your thongs, and paraded around the neighborhood? In groups of 10-12 people at night? In mid-winter? No? Well, since I know you're dying to do this, I'll tell you about the Naked Festival in Saidaiji, Okayama prefecture.
Every February, on what is somehow arranged to be the coldest day of the year, this Shinto festival, called "Hadaka Matsuri," causes the local men to drink large amounts of sake to purify their bodies and please the Gods. Once they have stripped off their clothing and adhered their fundoshi loin cloth, they keep warm by jumping up and down and chanting "Washoi!" which means, according to the drunk man who was standing next to me, "Wondafuru!"
At any rate, it definitely means something encouraging and serves as a method of keeping warm since the men chant Washoi! non-stop for hours at a time. Now I know why the Japanese don't have central heating in their homes. The secret to keeping warm is just to drink sake, and jump up and down naked while saying, "Wondafuru!" How easy!
Although on my planet, the USA, the Hadaka Matsuri would qualify as the world's largest male revue, in Japan running around in g-strings is perfectly acceptable because it is all in the name of Shinto. They're not doing this for money, so ladies, please resist the urge to stuff dollar bills into their loincloths. As a matter of fact, I think the Hadaka Matsuri is far more wondafuru than the Chippendales AND the Las Vegas show "Thunder from Down Under" Australian male revue put together. Why? No entry fee.
Participants of the Naked Festival in Saidaiji are local men who form groups either from their neighborhood or among their co-workers. Each group has a garage where they congregate and practice their "Washoi" in order to get up the courage to do what they'll do next: jog around the neighborhood in their fundoshi.
Washoi! Washoi! Washoi! They start by huddling in a group and jumping up and down. Washoi! Washoi! Washoi! They start jogging, very slowly, with one man leading the pack. Washoi! Washoi! Washoi! They follow a predetermined path around the neighborhood, with the goal of eventually reaching the main shrine. Washoi! Washoi! Washoi!
After running around a few blocks, and just when steam starts coming off their bodies indicating the men have attained a certain body warmth, some authority wearing a thick, insulated stadium jacket, throws cold water on the men to purify them even more. Now, those guys are PURE! Washoi! Washoi! Washoi!
All the groups of men congregate at the main shrine for the highlight of the event: at exactly midnight, two pieces of wood called shingi will be dropped from the inside of the temple and the man who catches one will have a year of good luck. Washoi! Washoi! Washoi!
The voyeurs, I mean spectators, gather around the outside of the temple while the men stand inside the temple which sits up high providing a sort of stage. As midnight nears, the outside lights are cut off leaving just a yellow glow inside the temple showing hundreds of men in their white fundoshi, stretching their arms up to the Gods, waiting for the shingi to be dropped.
At the strike of midnight, it's chaos. Washoi! Washoi! Washoi! Jump, push, shove. Washoi! Washoi! Washoi! Trip, fall, get trampled. Washoi! Washoi! Washoi!
But if you grasp the shingi, it would all be worth it. After all, an entire year of good luck would truly be wondafuru!
Language Tip: Hadaka ni narimashou! Let's get naked!