Check out other Naked Man Entries here. Welcome back to the Naked Man Journal! As you may, but probably don't know, the Saidaiji Naked Man Festival is one of Okayama's greatest claims to fame. Of course it's also the inspiration for the title of this Journal. I can very much identify with that awkward, slightly drafty feeling of being completely naked in public. Everyday I still get stares. I get tired of it but at the same time, it has had one positive?
The locals on the other hand are deathly afraid of doing something that would draw attention to themselves karaoke being the one exception. Let me tell you, I AM that nail as are most foreigners. I am OUT and proud. Thus, I am liberated. Free of the inhibitions that hold back normal people. I do what I want! Besides, people are going to stare no matter what. Mind you, I do try to respect local customs and fit in as best possible, but it isn't easy Anyway, back to the Hadaka Matsuri : During the winter months, there are naked festivals all over Japan, but at 10, participants, Okayama's is the largest.
I attended it on a cold Saturday evening back in February but haven't been able to put into words exactly what I'd seen until now:. It took place in the town of Saidaiji, about a 30 minute drive from downtown Okayama City. Upon arrival, we were welcomed with a short speech by the mayor of Saidaiji and a tour of the grounds where the festival would take place. The Canadian ambassador and his wife were also in attendance. I was there with my friends from Peru, Pedro and Roberto, who like myself, were just observers.
Already they were beginning to fear for the lives of their soon to be naked boyfriends. Tim and Mike seemed to be having second thoughts as well. They were beginning to realize they'd just signed up for an all-out brawl. The purpose of the festival? Quite simple: Capture a scented stick known as a shingi , thrown at exactly midnight, from the rafters of Saidaiji Temple by the head priest.
Then take it all the way back to City Hall, at least 10 blocks away, and stick it into a bucket full of dirt. Keep in mind that all the while you will be competing with 10, other naked men with exactly the same goal. Participants are allowed to do anything short of kill a man in order to get the shingi before it reaches City Hall. After successfully plunging the shingi into the bucket of dirt, the winner receives an enormous cash prize, not to mention the favor of the gods.
Several lesser, "decoy" shingi are also thrown out. They grant good luck and make swell ornaments for your rearview mirror. I should add that the participants aren't entirely naked. The vitals are protected? And in case you were wondering, the official word from the Mayor is that women are allowed to participate, but I've never heard of any who did.
They seem to be content to let boys be boys and keep this silly homoerotic game to themselves. That night, it was only a degree above freezing. Rain was coming down in sheets and the ground was a sea of mud.
The temple was a typical square, wooden structure with steep steps leading to the main level. This area was entirely open, so you could see the upper floor from which the shingi was dropped. Entering the festival area was like stepping onto the movie set of King Kong. There was a primitive smell in the air. Facing the street entrance, on the temple's first floor, a group of about 20 women played taiko drums.
The deep booms punctuated by their shrill cries, gave me the impression that any minute Kong would appear over the small town skyline, looking for a blond in a white dress about the size of his ring finger. There was fear and anticipation in the air. Spectators milled around in the rain, snapping pictures, waving the shrine's incense smoke on their bodies for good luck. I soaked up the ambience. At pm the first actual festival participants began to arrive in teams of anywhere from 5 to 50 men.
It was a bit startling to see them almost completely naked in the chill night air. They marched around as if in a trance, repeating "wa-shoi, wa-shoi. On their feet, they wore sock-like tabi covered in mud. They jumped in and back out to continue their march, psyching themselves up for the battle at hand.
Apparently, the water served as a ritual purification. It also made the frigid air seem warm by comparison. As if the mood wasn't charged enough, special "Winter Fireworks" were launched just over the river behind the temple. I had never seen fireworks in a February sky.
It was beautiful, but the clouds and rain muffled the explosions. The colors ran somewhat like the reflection of lights seen from within a car on a rainy night.
Once the fireworks ended, we went to a local coffee shop to warm-up a little. It was right across from a blue tent where our foreign men went to have their fundoshi wrapped. Apparently, like a kimono, it's not something you can put on by yourself. In fact, I was later told by my friend Tim that there was a man in there whose sole purpose in life was to gird the loins of naked men! Tim added that the guy yanked the cloth so far up his buttocks that his feet left the ground! This was done for a reason: Pin the testicles up in the body cavity for their own protection!
And obviously, you don't want it unwrapping in the middle of the fray. Most of the foreigners looked understandably uncomfortable in their fundoshis ; however, many of the Japanese men seemed to be quite at home. In fact, prior to entering the temple grounds and getting primal, many could be seen leisurely standing around in the rain and cold, smoking a cigarette or having a beer with the fellas.
Speaking of beer, in this same blue tent there was an endless supply of beer and sake for our gaijin group. Most of the other participants were "under the influence" to some degree.
The common belief is that it helps to combat the cold and provide liquid courage for the battle at hand. Never mind the fact that alcohol mixed with over exposure could also cause hypothermia cases are very common on this night. Finally it was nearing the moment everyone had been waiting for. We left the cafe for the observation area, located on the temple grounds, about meters away from the temple itself.
Fortunately, I was able to see above the umbrellas as I'm quite tall compared to the locals. The intensity was growing. Floodlights lit-up the entire temple precinct. Slowly the inner sanctum was beginning to fill with wet, naked men all jockeying for best position to catch the shingi. Team after team came marching in. There were all types of men.
There were the fresh 1 st year salarymen who had been forced to participate in company teams -- some sort of sadistic "coworker bonding" activity, the Japanese equivalent to fraternity Hell Week. Those less interested in the glory were simply trying to stay warm. Then there were the real "butt-kicker types. Drunk on beer, sake, adrenaline and testosterone, they walked among the others like lions stalking a herd of gazelle. Within the temple, a sea of bodies formed.
It was beginning to spill down the steps. A horde of naked men were yelling, slipping, climbing and slithering their way inside. I took my place in a raised viewing area separated by a fence from the temple ground.
There were still about 20 minutes before midnight. I was beginning to tune in to the violence breaking out in and just outside the temple: A large man crashed down the front steps, hitting them head first. Two smaller men exited right behind him. I thought they were trying to help, but then realized they were literally kicking him out of the temple! When the man finally hit the ground with a "thud" that I swear I heard from yards away , I noticed he was foreign. At the foot of the temple, the foreign man attempted to stand up, but received multiple kicks in the ribs and face.
There was nothing he could to do protect himself and no one around to help. Although it was over in less than a minute, it seemed like ages before anything was done to stop them. Eventually a swarm of white raincoat-wearing police with clubs arrived and laid into the two assailants.
The two men actually tried to put up a fight with the police but were beaten into submission. Meanwhile, not one of the 40 or so police bothered to check on the man laying in the mud! He was able to stand-up of his own volition but by that point he must have had absolutely no idea where he was.