July 25, 2021

Japan prosperity rite draws thousands in loincloths despite winter cold

2 min read

OKAYAMA, Japan: About 10,000 Japanese men clad only in loincloths braved freezing temperatures at the weekend to pack into a temple and scramble in the dark for lucky wooden talismans tossed into the crowd, in a ritual that dates back five centuries.

The highlight of the raucous day-long ‘Hadaka Matsuri’ festival came at 10pm on Saturday, when the lights went out and a priest threw bundles of twigs and two lucky sticks, each about 20cm long, among the participants.

That set off a 30-minute tussle for the sticks, coveted as symbols of good fortune and prosperity, although most men escaped with just a few cuts and bruises, in contrast to past occasions, when some have been crushed to death.

“Once a year, at the coldest time in February, we wrap ourselves in just a loincloth to be a man,” said 55-year-old Yasuhiko Tokuyama, the president of a regional electronics firm.

“That’s the significance of this event and why I continue to participate.”

A man carries a boy on his shoulders during a naked festival where men dressed in loincloths snatch
A man carries a boy on his shoulders during a naked festival where men dressed in loincloths snatch a wooden stick called “shingi” tossed by the priest at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture Japan February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

A monk presides a ceremony during a naked festival where men dressed in loincloths snatch a wooden
A monk presides a ceremony during a naked festival where men dressed in loincloths snatch a wooden stick called “shingi” tossed by the priest at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture Japan February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Plenty of sake and beer is sold outside the temple to warm the revelers, but a purifying plunge into pools of cold water before the start of the festival was a shock to the system for most.

The annual celebration at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple in the southern city of Okayama has its roots in a competition to grab paper talismans that dates back more than 500 years.

But as its popularity grew, the paper talismans began to rip, as did the clothes of the rising number of participants, so that eventually wooden sticks were adopted and garments discarded.