A few weeks ago, I took part in one of the most bizarre festivals I have ever seen in the world: Hadaka Matsuri, or, in English, the “Naked Man Festival.” The festival attracts thousands every year, one part being comprised of the men ballsy enough to take part in the event, and the other part being friends and curious locals wishing to watch these men and their folly.
We gathered together during the night in the environs of a small Okayama temple. 9,000 men, the newspapers in total have reported. It was freezing, but an excitement of not knowing what we were getting ourselves into gave us a sort of energy transcendental of the kind provided by sustenance alone . In tents we stripped down to nothing and replaced our clothes with nothing but a fundoshi (sumo thong) and a pair of tabi (thonged socks). I decked my fundoshi with an American flag, increasing my likelihood of becoming a target to be torn to pieces. But such risks just add to the fun. Fight Club comes to mind.
Outside, teams that had entered the festival together interlocked arms in rows of 4 and moved together as a pack, circling the temple and chanting WASHYOI!!! as onlookers cheered and extended hands for high fives from these crazy men in their undies. A blend of glory and folly, the two most defining emotions dictating the histories of our world’s societies.
Each lap entailed running through a pool of frigid water, where teams purposely added to the discomfort by splashing each other while making their pass through.
After about an hour of this, all of the thousands of men packed like sardines at the front of the temple, waiting. Local priests stood on a balcony above, watching the men push and shove each other, tossing purifying water down below from time to time. Quickly, the unbearable cold transformed into incredibly humid man-sauna. A cloud of steam emanating from the mass of men rose continually into the air. Pushing and shoving, hands outstretched towards the sky; priests above it all looking down below with watchful eyes–it all seemed to be the enactment of a drama symbolic of the history of man. Samsara.
After about an hour of this the lights were shut off, and the priests threw small talismans down below into the crowds. There were only a few of them, but they were worth big money, and if one managed to carry one of these outside of the temple confines in one piece, it could be exchanged for cash prizes amounting to thousands of US dollars. The incentive behind the madness.
Things get rather dangerous at Hadaka Matsuri. I’ve had friends tell of stories of foreigners being attacked for being too tall/white/American, or whatever, and of people who managed to escape from the temple with talismans jumped by gangs and walking away with nothing.
I myself had no concern with money and was only there for the experience. My friends and I were dead center in the middle of all of this action though, and we had a really great time.
Below is an entire documentary I found on the festival…..