The Hadaka Matsuri Festival is one of only three really eccentric festivals held in Japan. It is also known as the Naked Festival because participants wear only a minimum amount of clothing. They usually wear only a loincloth or “fundoshi” – which is considered to be shrine attire.
This festival dates back to 500 years – worshippers competed for paper talismans thrown by the priest. These were called Go-o. They were considered tokens of completion of New Year training undertaken by the priests in asceticism. People who received these tokens always had good luck. More and more people started requesting them every year. Since paper tears easily, these talismans were changed and are now made of wooden ofuda.
The men dressed only in their loincloths approach the precinct and temple premises shouting “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!”. Even though it is really cold, the fervor and excitement amongst the men is so strong that water is thrown over them. At midnight all the lights are turned off. Sacred stickes are tossed into the crowd and there is a mad rush to grab them. These sticks are then put into a wooden measuring box which is heaped with rice. The lucky person is then blessed with a year of happiness.
Spectators and participants jostle each other in the small confines of the shrine and experience all the thrills that are part of this festival. For the more retiring spectator, there are paid seats from where people can watch the action. Other items that are considered to be harbingers of good luck are bundles of willow strips. Only a limited number of these are tossed into the crowd and it is no easy task to get one of them. On the main day of the festival, there is a smaller festival from 6PM for young boys who compete for rice cakes and other treasures.