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Hadaka Matsuri - The Naked Festival : Coming this winter to a Shinto shrine near you!

JAPAN | Wednesday, 24 March 2010 | Views [23528]

I recently spent a day surrounded by a few dozen semi-naked, mud-smeared Japanese men… oh, and one semi-naked, mud-smeared American.  Yep, it was loincloths, bums and mud as far as the eye could see and it was all done in the name of good fortune in crop harvest, health and makin’ babies. 

Welcome to the Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival), a fun-filled ancient Japanese ceremony, that takes place at Shinto shrines around Japan each winter. This incredibly bizarre festival basically involves local men stripping down to a loincloth to run up and down a hill a few times while flinging a lot of mud at spectators and each other… oh, and there are a few bouts of human pyramid wrestling (where one small slip of the cloth could spell disaster) thrown in for good measure.

It might sound a little weird, but this is not the only time I’ve witnessed something like this…  If you take the words ‘Japanese men’ and ‘one semi-naked… American’ and replace them with ‘Korean men and women’ and ‘hundreds of semi-naked… Americans’ then you’d have a fairly good description of my first super muddy Asian experience – the Boreyong Mud Festival at Daecheon Beach, South Korea (that is, if you forget the bits about good fortune and crop harvest and baby making … well, maybe not the baby making part – wink wink, nudge nudge). 

Both Korea’s mud festival and Japan’s naked festival involve scantily clad participants with a penchant for slinging mud.  Both are annual events and both are a hell of a lot of fun to be in town for, but this is more or less where the similarities end.  

Korea’s Boreyong mud festival is a 9-day social extravaganza open to anyone who cares to mud-up (and many unsuspecting bystanders who don’t).  There are mud slides, obstacle courses, games and even a ‘mud prison’ where those who feel they are not grubby enough can enter to be sprayed with the dirty stuff. Basically it’s just an excuse for Koreans and waegukin (foreigners) to hit the beach during the unbearably hot month of July to enjoy some impressive fireworks, some less impressive musical acts and a whole lot of drinking.  Aside from promoting the healing properties of the local mud (and, let’s be serious, no one remembers this through their soju hangovers anyway), there’s no greater purpose or significance to this mud festival… it’s just really, really, really fun.

While also a lot of fun, the Hadaka Matsuri, is a religious rite celebrated to bring good fortune for the forthcoming harvest season and good health to the new babies in the community (even if, at first glance, it does look a bit like a college fraternity party gone wild). Although it is open for public viewing, only local male residents may participate in the festival and, as I understand it, they must have fathered a child in the last year or be hoping to have a child in the next year (this seemed to be the case at the Mimasubi Shrine in Yotsukaido, Chiba-ken anyway).  Between throwing a Shinto priest in the air a few times and a lot of running around and muscle-flexing, the men mark the faces of their children and of people in the crowd with mud, giving the recipient good luck.  By the end of the festival, Simon and I looked like two pretty lucky people... but not quite as lucky as this kid.

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