Japan is a bit of a strange place, right? Have you ever wondered what one of the strangest things is? How about 9,000 some odd naked man fighting each other for bundles of incense thrown from shrine rooftops? Yeah, that’ll do it.
That is the Hadaka Matsuri, Naked Man Festival, that takes place every February in Okayama City, japan. Thousands of men from all over Japan come and strip down together to literally duke it out for the chance to touch or grab one of those sticks. Sounds like fun, right? It was. But before you decide to sculpt a trip to Japan to participate in this, let me tell you a few things you NEED to know, first.
1.You are NOT naked
The title ‘Naked Man’ presents a pretty specific picture, right? Well, the men aren’t really “naked.” Instead, all the males wear Japanese loin cloths called fundoshi. If you don’t know what that is, try to imagine a cross between Tarzan’s loin cloth, a girdle, and a g-string. Now imagine wearing only that with 9000 other men and parading through crowds of women, children, and photographers for about three hours. That is the Naked Man festival.
Don’t worry though, you quickly lose any sense of embarassment before the event begins. The real time to shine comes in the group tents where you put on your newely purchased fundoshi and tabi socks. Let’s be honest, nobody knows how to wear a fundoshi anymore, not even many Japanese people. But like many things in Japan, there is a very specific way that they must be wrapped. No sloppy jobs here.
As a result, each tent has a pair of “professional fundoshi wrappers” in it. Let me tell you, standing buck naked in front of a couple hundred guys while you’re being hoisted up into the air by a little old lady, who happens to be wrapping you up like a mummy, is a real way to set the mood for the evening.
2. Cash Money -
Like many organized events, you have to pay to participate. You’d think throwing your self-respect aside and frolicking around naked in a massive spectacle would be enough though, right? Wrong.
This event is a little expensive. In order to be a runner you have to pay 2,000 yen as an entry fee. In addition to that, you have to pay anywhere between 3,000-4,000 yen for your fundoshi and tabi socks. Overall, its about 5-6,000 yen to run.
Luckily, if you are just an observer, the fee is only 3,000 yen. Yep they still want that money. The admission fees can be payed electronically; however, the fundoshi and socks can only be bought with cash. The event organizers even recommend you bring about 6,000 yen or so, just in case you need it.
3. First rule about Naked Man -
Don’t talk about naked man! No, just kidding, this isn’t like Fight Club. To quote a cliche, “they’re less rules and more guidelines.” At Naked Man, there are very specific customs that you have to follow. You and your team or group must hold onto each other, four people behind four people, and run around the main shrine 4 times. Each time that this is done, the group will run through a pool of about nipple deep freezing, “holy” water and then continue to a smaller shrine to pray and pay their respects.
Once this is done, everybody returns to their tents to rest up a bit and use the restrooms. Don’t think you’re safe from the cold water yet though. Once the event starts up again, every team must run through the water one final time before walking up the steps of the main shrine. This is where we start jockeying for positions and it basically turns into a metal concert with indiscriminate moshing and shoving. It can get pretty dangerous.
4. Did I mention the Yakuza?
Speaking of dangerous, the Japanese organized crime syndicate, Yakuza, also decides to jaunt around with everyone. There are even rumors that they technically organize the event. Maybe that’s why it is so expensive. Think how much money they can make by almost 10,000 people paying around 6-7,000 yen. I’ll help you out, that’s 70,000,000 yen. But, then again, it is just a rumor.
Anyways, what is really crazy is that the Yakuza blatantly display themselves as yakuza and walk around with everyone. They are the only people allowed to wear different colored fundoshi and actually wear pitch black ones at that.
Everybody knows that they are there and who they are, but seem to avoid mentioning it and brush it aside. Not crazy enough for you? How about the fact that they were actually pretty nice guys, at least in this context. A friend of mine spent some time hanging out with them and they definitely joked around with us but were pretty normal guys. The whole time I’m thinking, “you are so nice. I wonder how many fingers you’ve cut off in your life.”
5. Pick your battles -
Speaking of which, that brings me to my final piece of advice: pick your battles. Don’t be a hero. When the incense sticks are finally thrown, you are going to be competing with 9,000 some odd people for these sticks. Most likely, you are not Japanese and this doesn’t mean as much to you. It is the complete opposite for many others. There are actual teams who practice all year in order to develop tactics that ensure that they win. This is your competition.
Also, do you enjoy having your arms snapped backwards? No? Me neither. If you are in the main pit, keep your arms up in the air and forward. There is going to be so much pressure from every direction and there are going to be so many hands touching you in so many places that you won’t have any ability to move. Near the end, this happened to my friend and I who were fending off a group of people who decided it was necessary to not just pull us but kidney shot us, chock us, rip our hair, and pull our legs out. Yeah, we gave it up.
But, worst case scenario you go down and the police force the crowd to disperse and hurry you away. “Safety” at its finest.
I’d definitely recommend this event either way, I mean getting one of the sticks is good luck for 1 year but even touching it is also good lucky...allegedly. So go out there, strut your man stuff and grab some sticks!
By Jonathan Rummel