Feb 26, 2014

Bare Facts: The Naked Festival

Okayama city, where I presently reside, hosts one of the most famous, early New Year festivals called the “The Naked Festival” at Saidaiji Temple.

Saidaiji Temple in Okayama
In Japanese, this festival is called the Hadaka Matsuri (hadaka= nude; matsuri= festival)," which is a 500-year-old, annual, religious festival, where men participate wearing just a loincloth ( Fundoshi), in hope of spiritual purification, prosperity, fertility and luck throughout the year. It is usually held on the 3rd Saturday in February.

Kids in Fundoshi

The event is particularly famous due to the presence of only one, completely uncovered man, hidden in and among the crowd of almost 10000 men, whom every other participant is eager to touch to attain purity!
According to the Japanese Shinto religion, a bare man can absorb (remove) bad luck and evil from other men who touch him.
Another highlight of this festival involves men, dipping in water to prove their manhood, by withstanding freezing, winter temperatures. Occasionally, one may see, a group of semi-naked men, carrying a “portable shrine or Omikoshito the river for a dip with them.

Cold water dip

Once the initial purification ritual is over, men hurry to the temple to battle it out for a pair of “lucky sticks or Shingi”, thrown at them by Shinto priests.

Battling for the Shingi

Finally, at the ringing of the temple bell, men compete in climbing up a thick rope suspended from the temple ceiling. It is believed that the first man to reach the top will be bestowed upon with fortune in the coming year.
With all the physical activity involved, it is no surprise that this tradition was originally meant only for men! The kid’s version of this ritual sees little boys in Fundoshi competing for good-luck charms in the form of rice cakes, etc. instead of sticks.

Interesting History
During the Nara Period (767 AD), there was a lot of misfortune and sickness prevailing in the region, and the Shinto religion believed that the only way to exorcise  evil was by "nudity." So one man from each village (Godly man or shin otoko) was forcefully chosen, had all his hair shaved from his body and thrown into a crowd of men eager to touch him and be rid of all their evil. Once the ritual was over, the poor man was banished from the region.
However, today, a thousand years after this tradition originated, becoming a “Shin Otoko” is voluntary, where one feels honored to spread luck and prosperity to his brotherhood, and is rewarded well in cash and kind.
If you're interested, please watch the 2014 Festival at Saidaiji Temple, uploaded by Sankei News on youtube. 
** Images have been aquired from the internet


Feb 17, 2014

Mr. Bean in Japan

Every year in February (usually 3rd or 4th), the Japanese observe the “Bean Throwing Ceremony” orMamemaki”. As this time of the year also coincides with the division of seasons and the beginning of spring orSetsubun”, most Japanese households (particularly, families with small children) carry out a “spiritual cleaning," to drive off evil and bring in fortune! Quite different from spring cleaning in the west, right?

Roasted, edible, soybeans are given to children, who throw it at a man dressed up as a demon (usually the father or male head of the household), while chanting:
"Out with the devil = Oni was soto
"In with fortune = Fuku was uchi

So a typical scenario would be excited children, running around the house, room to room, throwing beans and, literally driving the masked Mr. Devil out of the house." Once the devil is out, innumerous beans are scattered all over, which are then picked up, and each person eats the same number of beans as their age, to bring good luck.
Now you might wonder, since when had the bean become mightier than exorcism, in driving out the devil?

Well, it so happens that, for the Japanese, the bean provides the most protein, and is the basis of good health and energy.
Traditionally, this aspect associates the bean with toughness and unbreakable, strong willpower. Therefore, they are the best choice for keeping the devil and his bad luck out of Japanese homes and as a bonus, bring in health and happiness!


Besides private ceremonies at home, bean throwing ceremonies are also held at many temples and shrines throughout the country. Some famous temples or shrines even invite popular celebrities to participate in the bean throwing ceremony. So, if you’re in luck and can go past the crowd, you may even get a glimpse of your favorite celebrity! See, already you feel fortunate!
Another, not so traditional but a rather commercial side to this custom mainly practiced in the Kansai region of Japan is, eating, uncut, rolled sushi in a specific lucky direction, for that particular year, but, in silence! Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! .
You must be thinking; how does a roll sushi connect with being happy or fortunate?

Well, the “sushi roll” is supposed to “Roll in happiness” and if you can eat the whole, uncut sushi in complete silence, your good human relations will not be cut off, rather get better! Surely, that must make you happy.

Although most modern Japanese people do not believe in the actual outcome of the ceremony, they are sporty enough to continue the tradition, which I think makes them who they are.