All Aboard- to the Naked Man Festival!

Trip Start Jun 27, 2009
Trip End Jun 25, 2011

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Flag of Japan  ,
Monday, April 21, 2008

I have a list of things I want to do before I leave Japan...and in late February I was able to check another one off that list!!! The Naked Man Festival! Yes, you read it correctly..

My friends Mac, Joe, Lily and I took a 6-7 hour road trip to a "nearby" prefecture called Okayama. We affectionately refer to it as our sister prefecture because the two names sound so much alike, and if you don't annunciate the name just right most Japanese people think that we said Okayama and that that's where we live--when in fact we are saying Wakayama. The reason for heading into the southern part of the island was for the annual Naked Man Festival (in Japanese it's called the Hadaka Matsuri)!!

Japan has some strange and crazy festivals but this has got to be up there in the top 5.

A bit of history about the event--
The festival is held in the evening at a temple in the city of Okayama, in Okayama prefecture. The host of this event, is a Shingon sect temple believed to have been founded in the year 778. Eyo is a 14-day New Year ritual during which monks of the Shingon sect pray for a year of bountiful harvest and good fortune. On the 14th day, amulets (an object that protects a person from trouble) said to guarantee a good year were presented to the elders representing the people. But an increasing amount of believers began to gather for these amulets. People fought until their clothes tore off!! Thus the paper amulets were replaced by wooden sticks which were tossed into the crowd. Good fortune is bestowed to those who catch these sticks. By the end of the 19th century, the event had evolved into the current style, being held naked (not completely but rather in a 'thong' that looks similar to that worn by sumo wrestlers). Recently, the festival has been attracting over 10,000 naked men who thrust themselves into the crowd upon the release of these wooden charms at midnight. Despite the chilling temperature, the intense fight produces steam that casts a mysterious spell on this winter event.

We toured the castle and famous gardens before the festival began and got some food at an Italian restaurant!! We said goodbye/wished good luck to our friends who were participating in the festival (foreigners are allowed to participate as long as you don't have any tattoo's--tattoo's in Japanese culture are representative of the mafia!).

We made our way through the back streets of the town, watching as groups of men dressed in their sumo thongs (fundoshi) ran around the streets drinking sake and chanting, psyching themselves up for the climax of the festival at midnight when the sticks would be dropped. We tried to stay warm in the cold weather and couldn't believe it when we finally saw our friends run passed us!! They looked so funny/freezing cold in their little outfits. Slowly we made our way to the main temple and found a place to stand on a hill overlooking the temple. The closer it got to midnight the more men packed in around the temple, each vying for a spot under the roof where the sticks would be dropped. It looked exhausting having to fight to even stay standing up right! The police had to go in many times to retrieve people who were either passed out drunk or simply from exhaustion.

As it got closer and closer to midnight the intensity was growing and finally at exactly midnight (in true Japanese fashion) the lights everywhere went black and the sticks were dropped!! Then complete chaos ensued and the men began wrestling each other and fighting for those coveted lucky sticks.
Here is a quote from a friend's blog who was also watching next to me:

"it is the MOST primal, intense, and heavily violent festival I have ever witnessed in Japan...just the adrenaline of thousands of men, fighting and pushing each other for one single stick in a crowded area, of the temple is insane! The domino effect of men falling over, and fighting...getting trampled and so forth adds to the infamous charm of this matsuri.

A few of our Wakayaman brothers here ( Jono, Joe and Parry ) joined in on this insane matsuri. Sadly, Ryan was not allowed to join due to his tattoos...this year, there was absolutely NO EXCEPTION. No bandages to cover them, were even allowed.

However, view the madness for yourself..."

That being said, once again I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I will also include a video clip I's insane!
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starlagurl on

Wow, that is crazy!
I wish I was in for next year's naked man festival! Too bad it's so far away.

Louise Brown
TravelPod Community Manager

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