Right then, I’ve got a question for you. What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word February? Wintery, frost-glittered mornings? Valentine’s Day, perhaps? What about the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which brought about the end of the Mexican-American war in February 1848? Or maybe you think of thousands of sake-crazed loons descending upon a provincial Aichi town, braving the biting cold, clad in little more than what their mother bore unto them, all in the name of good fortune? If it is the latter, then you have come to the right place.
Yes, once again it is time for the sheer unadulterated lunacy that is Konomiya’s Hadaka Matsuri (literally ‘naked festival’), one of the top three such events in Japan. Of course, some of you may have been previous witness to the insanity, possibly even bared your bits amongst the frivolity. But for many of you this will be your first time to behold the mass of writhing flesh, and you are likely more than a little nervous of the prospect. But fear not because as a fully-fledged veteran – both as spectator and participant – out of the sheer kindness of its heart, NAGMAG is here to pass on its bountiful knowledge of what you should and shouldn’t do at Hadaka Matsuri.
Don’t get naked
Well, that’s thrown you hasn’t it? There you were, wearing nothing more than a cheery smile, and here I am telling you to pop your grundies back on. “But Mark, it’s the Naked Festival,” I hear you cry. “But it’s not you that’s naked,” I wearily retort in the manner of a patronising uncle who has both been there and, whilst he was there, done that. No, there will be but one man with nothing more than goose bumps to warm him, and that will be the shin otoko, or God man. This demigod – bar eyebrows, completely shaven – will be the only naked man in this sea of semi-nudity (the other participants wearing fundoshi loincloths to protect their winter-shriveled modesty), he is specifically chosen for this position of divinity, fighting off competition from many other higher being hopefuls, and he is the guest of honour. Sound like a cushy job? Think again.
Do slap the shin otoko
Slap him, poke him, grab him, do whatever you can to lay your icy-cold mitts on him. You may consider it cruel and disrespectful to allow 9,000 saked-up men to abuse a solitary semi-deity, but that’s what he’s there for. You see, each man (and sorry ladies, only men can take part, what with you being an inferior species and all. You will be permitted to observe should you so wish.) who makes contact with the shin otoko transfers any potential misfortune that awaits in the following year, the shin otoko being a conduit, via bumps, bruises and abrasions, for all of the town’s potential bad luck and burying it far away safely ensconced in a mud cake. On his own. Whilst everyone else is celebrating. At three in the morning. As if his day hasn’t been shitty enough already.
Don’t fiddle with your fundoshi
If you are invited to take part in this year’s celebrations (and please only take part if you are invited or have registered. The last thing this festival needs is to have its 1247 year-old tradition desecrated by a bunch of pissed up gaijin wandering around in their kecks, slapping around anyone that looks even remotely divine) you will be wearing a headband, tabi shoes and a fundoshi. So far, so simple right? Wrong. For you will soon find that there is nothing fun about a fundoshi*, particularly as it is coiled and wedged so far up your arse it will tickle your tonsils. But this way it must be, for the fundoshi has no zip, no buttons, no Velcro even, and is held only in place by the forcefulness with which it was applied. With this in mind, despite the vast quantities of beer and sake you will require to combat the winter breeze, ‘breaking the seal’ will result in you compromising the tension of your loincloth, and in doing so, in all likelihood, compromising your dignity as your bits swing around for all to see for the rest of the day. Presuming the cold hasn’t sent them scurrying up towards your abdomen, of course.
*Yes, I know I made the same joke last year, but what can I say, I’m a glutton for pun-ishment
Do prove your manliness
The initial stages of Hadaka Matsuri are comprised of a parade through the town, your team brandishing their immense, phallic sasa poles adorned with naoigire, cotton prayer squares written by the women of your area. This is the best time to show how much of a man you are. You stroll through the town, pumping the bamboo poles in the air, chanting, guzzling sake by the carton-load, and as you finally reach the Owari Shosha shrine, it’s manhood time. Your group spins your pole at treacherous speeds before planting it in the ground, raising it triumphantly like deeply confused lumberjacks. Now it’s your time to shine. With a quick boost you will scamper to the top, shimmying like you’ve never shimmied before, reveling in the cheers of the crowd. Presuming you don’t plummet, sake-headed, to the ground with a crunch. There’s nothing macho about skull fractures and brain hematoma. Ok, maybe there is a little bit.
Don’t die from the cold
So, you think it’s cold don’t you? After your team has passed its sasa pole through the tori gates of the shrine, and you are standing around in the fading afternoon sun, waiting for the main event, wearing next to nothing, you probably reckon it’s a bit chilly. Well you’ve not seen anything yet. As the sun goes down, the shin-otoko comes out, but he is not alone. Because, let’s face it, it is somewhat irresponsible to send a completely naked man, starved cleansed by his three day diet of thin rice gruel, out to face the thronging hordes. So he has bodyguards. But unlike Kevin Costner, these bodyguards aren’t packing heat. Quite the opposite in fact. They will be cannoning buckets of ice water at you as you approach the scrum of the shin otoko as a way of deterring you from hanging around to slap the poor bugger silly. And so, come the day’s end, you will find yourself soaked to the bone, fundoshi hanging from you, shivering like Shakin’ Stevens trying to twerk. What’s blue and fucks drunken naked idiots? Hypothermia.
Do share your good fortune
So, you’ve touched the shin otoko. You lucky, lucky bastard! But don’t hoard that fortune to yourself. Spread the wealth. Hand out your cotton strips of cloth to the gathered spectators to take home and to hang above their door for good luck. You may allow them to touch you. They may want to even hug you, and you may want to let them if they’re particularly fit. Just for body warmth, no ulterior motives of course…
Do remember to book the day off work
The one problem with many religious festivals in Japan, is that they are not strategically arranged around weekends and regular holidays. Hadaka Matsuri is no different and takes place on the 13th day of the lunar calendar. This year that falls on February 9th, a Thursday, meaning that, to give you the day off, your employer will have to be particularly benevolent towards your desire to get pissed up and naked thirst for experiencing all parts of the rich tapestry of Japanese culture. But if you manage to wangle it, you should take the train to Konomiya (the first stop from Nagoya on the Meitetsu line towards Gifu), head towards the Owari Shosha shrine, and whether you are just watching or taking part, soak up as much sake and fortune as you can.