These guys will do anything for luck!
24.02.2008 -6 °C
It is essential that I make a record of last night’s events before the details start slipping from my mind. With that said, last night was a night I will never forget!
The festival is called Hadaka Matsuri in Japanese or Naked Man Festival in English. Here is the breakdown. Thousands of men dress in loincloths and Japanese booties and run around the temple grounds for a few hours. They repeatedly clean themselves in a fountain bath and purify themselves with the incense smoke near the alter. Then, at the stroke of midnight, priests standing above the crowd throw ten sticks out (two them are fakes). The men struggle with one another to gain possession of the sticks. Whoever goes home with the sticks is guaranteed luck for the whole year. The even goes ahead no matter what the weather. Last year it was -6 and raining, as I understand it.
Now here is what I saw. We arrived at 8:30 to catch the fireworks display. On our way into the grounds we were shamed by the idiotic displays of other foreigners who had clearly gotten hammered before coming and were just making fools of themselves on the way to the festival. Some days I wish I wasn’t a foreigner.
Anyway, when we got to the grounds we were surprised to see men already lapping the temple in their loincloths and dipping into the fountain while shouting “Whashoi!” They would enter the fountain in rows, arms over shoulders, and then start splashing each other. Eeek! The temperature was a nippy -5 and it was cold out there. The first groups of guys were carrying the littlest kids who were also nearly naked in their tiny little loincloths freezing their little asses off on the shoulders of their so-called “caregivers”. Shortly after, about eight women dresses in white cotton chest wraps and skirts where hustled through the fountain. In the past women have not been allowed to participate in the festival but the rule has recently been changed. However, the girls who did participate seemed almost ashamed of themselves because they had their heads down and they didn’t seem happy like the men. It just seemed like a bit of a spectacle and I never saw a single one of them in the scrum for the sticks but who can blame them. The battle for the sticks is crazy
I went into the fountain area to get some video of the groups of men coming through the fountain. I also had a friend who was participating so I was hoping to catch him on camera. However my flipping video camera wasn’t working and I tried everything to get it to work. Just as I was about to chuck the stupid thing into the fountain it started to work. After a few minutes of filming I ran out of battery power but luckily had another battery in my purse. I fumbled through my purse for the battery and as I pulled it out I lost grip on it and it did a very dramatic bounch-bounce-bounce-gloosh straight into the fountain. Needless to say, I got very limited video footage of this event.
Anyway, we got some cheep tickets which allowed us entrance into the temple to see where they would throw the sticks from. The temple was AMAZING! I have seen many amazing temples and maybe it was the excitement of the event and the naked screaming men running by below but this temple was just breathtaking. It was very exciting to get to stand in that gallery and look at the crowds below.
The crowds of people were allowed to freely wander the grounds until about 10:30 when everyone was asked to move to the viewing areas, only the men in loincloths were allowed to stay in the inner grounds. So we picked a spot and stood there for an hour and a half in order to hold onto them.
After 10:30 the groups of men marching in circles and dipping into the fountains began to increase in number until there were thousands of less-than-half naked men pilling around the temple. The numbers were becoming a bit overwhelming. Closer to midnight more groups of older men started to enter the area and also many men wearing bandages all up their arms and legs. You see, this is a very serious event in Japan and in the past many of the Japanese mafia try to come in and bully their way to the sticks by showing off their many tattoos. Now there is a rule that absolutely no tattoos are permitted. People are also warned about trying to cover up tattoos but many, many men seemed to have slipped past this rule because there were either a lot of men with some pretty serious upper arm injuries or there were some hidden tattoos around.
Around 11:30 most of the men are trying to get a spot on the upper platform near where the sticks will be thrown out. There are thousands of men on the platform and we can see the men really start to push their way into the crowd now. All along the edge of the enclosure are men in white and men in blue. The men in white are emergency medics (last year a man died in the festival which is easy to understand when you see this frantic uncontrolled mob of men. The whole thing is quite scary even before the sticks are thrown. It is a wonder more people aren’t killed every year) and they are terribly efficient. Every few minutes hands would start waving deep in the crowd and the men in white would storm troup their way into the crowd. They would move in the most efficient way. They would go in and pierce the crown and then open up a hole for more men in white to come in and rescue whoever had been hurt and then exit again as quickly as they had come in. They seemed to do this every few minutes. Apparently a lot of men faint right in the middle of the mob because of the pressure and heat and exhaustion and cold and whatever…it’s not safe anyway. The problem with the men in white was that every time they left the scene there where men struggling to fight for a better position which would cause huge waves of men to start pushing which almost every time led to dozens of people falling down the stairs. It was really shocking to watch. It was at about this point that I really started to worry about my friend TJ who was participating.
Just moments before midnight the crowd was in a frenzy, Men were constantly falling off the platform in waves and everyone’s hands were in the air. Suddenly the lights in the temple went out (oh, did I mention the battle for the sticks happens in the dark?). The crowd erupted into thunderous noise while the onlookers gasped and winced and the inevitable injuries that would undoubtedly be sustained. Some of the wrestling moved out into the courtyard and lasted for longer than ten minutes. Fights began to break out here and there and we turned around to find that a fight had even broken out in the crowd of spectators (not very Japanese like). Then before you knew it was all over. The pressure in the crown started to release and everyone started to exit the temple grounds. I have no idea who the lucky men are but I’d wager they are probably sustained some not so lucky injuries for their efforts.
All and all I have to say the Naked Man Festival is the wackiest thing I have ever seen in my life.