It’s funny how some things can alter your perception. Age can change Christmas from a time of wonder into one of spirit-crushing despair. Experience can change the notion of school life from one of hellish tedium to rose-tinted days of halcyonian camaraderie. Alcohol too can change our perception. Yes, under its heady influence, even the idea of standing semi-naked for six hours in the February chill seems like a good one. In the sober light of day, it is not.
My first introduction to Hadaka Matsuri, the famous naked festival in Komaki, just outside of Nagoya, had been a fun one. Last year I stood on the sidelines, necking can after can of beer, cheering as the naked fools stumbled drunkenly past me. My second experience, however, was somewhat different.
I arrived with Icchan, my festival guide and owner of English School of Travelers, at the headquarters of Sarashikai, the group with which I would be undertaking this most bizarre of rituals, and immediately found myself stark bollock naked. As Hazuki, my photographer for the day, continued enthusiastically snapping away, Goto-san, the wizened old chair of the group and long-time festival veteran, used all his surprising might to pull a cloth as far up my arse crack as he could. And that was pretty far! The fundoshi, was then wrapped around my body with bone crunching precision, and we were good to go.
As we stood in the harsh Komaki breeze adorning our bamboo poles with naoigire, cotton squares of prayers, all the while chanting what could either be wasoi, yasoi or rasoi (even after an entire day of shouting, I still haven’t the foggiest), I noticed something.
“Hey, Icchan, why is my loincloth filthy and everyone else’s so pristine?”
“You have a special fundoshi. Goto san chose you to wear it. It was worn last year by the shin-otoko’s personal guards. It’s very, very lucky.”
The skeptic in me screamed that either (a) this was a lie and I was simply wearing an old table cloth or (b) a piece of fabric that had been up someone else’s bum was now so firmly up mine I could feel it in the back of my throat. However, Icchan is not one taken to duplicity and, casting all thoughts of fungal growth aside, I took it to be an auspicious sign.
The wind was howling as we made our way to the temple, but the sake being poured down our throats was warming. The sake being poured down our chests, as well as the sake being flung at us was not. Between us we carried our sasa pole, pumping it in the air as we went, arms burning, shoulders aching, determined to make a spectacle.
Arriving at the temple area we performed tricks for the thronging masses, spinning quickly, planting our bamboo, the more adventurous of us scampering, monkey-like, to it’s top, cheering for the delight of the crowd. We soon appeared at the tori-gates and, sprinting full speed into the temple, hurled our bamboo inside.
The main event was still to come.
Two hours later we gathered, en masse, hundreds of us, the sun setting, the wind whipping; we felt no cold. The shin-otoko, the god man, was coming. Rumors sprang up of his whereabouts and we chased through the street with hopes high. The shin-otoko’s minders were cannoning buckets of water at us. People fell, bloodied. But, like football hooligans facing the water cannons of police in a European piazza, we waited, chanting in unison.
Suddenly, a throng of intent materialized. He had arrived. We flocked together, pushing, prodding, like a concentric mosh-pit, all aiming inwards. Still the water was lashed at us constantly, the steam rising from us like a homoerotic bathhouse, and yet we drove inwards.
Within five minutes I had lost a shoe, but soon found I was near the centre and there, right before me, was the shin-otoko. It was strange. I didn’t know what to expect, but I would have thought that this poor bugger, the center of attention of hundreds of slapping naked men, would have seemed in excruciating pain. But to my surprise, that was far from the case. His gaze was free of agony, oblivious to his surroundings. He was serene, transcendental. It could have been the three previous day’s starvation that was effecting him, but in that moment it seemed much more likely that this man truly had taken on a semi-deified state, that he had reached nirvana.
So I slapped him.
Unfortunately, it was little more than a glancing blow to his forehead, so I redoubled my efforts. I recalled my high school rugby days, dropped a shoulder and, although I had by now lost a second shoe, heaved with all my might. I elbowed one man aside, squeezed past another, and found myself face to face with the shin-otoko. I raised an arm out of the thronging flesh and, as one man jumped over us in his attempts to raise his own luck quota, slapped the god man right on the top of the head.
Mission accomplished I made my way back to our bus. I was soaked to the bone, my feet were cut to shreds, bloody, and I was peppered with bruises. My fundoshi, soaked, hung from my body, and I was shivering like a Chihuahua in a fridge, but I was completely exhilarated. Not only had I just taken part in a centuries old Japanese tradition, but I had touched the shin-otoko. Twice! I was the luckiest man around, and this luck is contagious. So, who wants to touch me? Because, when you take in to account that I also had on the prestigious fundoshi, I have, quite literally, good fortune coming out of my arse!