Thursday, March 5, 2015

(R) Hadaka Matsuri - Japan's Naked Festival

Hadaka Matsuri (裸祭り) is a Japanese festival held at many different locations throughout Japan. The standard explanation for this festival is that thousands of somewhat intoxicated, nearly naked men gather in one location to search through the crowd for something that will bring them luck for the whole year. Because the individual festivals are all different, we can’t go deeper into an explanation without singling out one in particular. This video will explain the Hadaka Matsuri that takes place at Konomiya Shrine (国府宮).

Konomiya Shrine is the largest shrine in the city of Inazawa (稲沢), which is located about 12 minutes by train from Nagoya (which is about 250km, or 160miles southwest of Tokyo). Inazawa has a population of about 130,000 and falls about halfway between rural and urban, which has made it a popular place for the construction of new homes. Other notable places in Inazawa include the Mitsubishi Solae elevator testing tower, which previously held the record for the world's tallest elevator testing tower, and Inazawa Grand Bowl, which previously held the record for largest bowling alley (116 lanes).

People from all over the Owari region participate in the Hadaka Matsuri, signing up at the designated location in their cities to become hadaka otoko (naked men / 裸男). Several days before the festival, each group of hadaka otoko must meet a quota for producing mochi (餅), or rice cake. Most shrines bring their completed stack of mochi to Konomiya before the festival, although some will parade it through Konomiya’s gates the morning of the festival. This mochi will be displayed at the festival, and sold afterwards.

The men of Hadaka Matsuri also start out at these smaller shrines. The morning of the festival they finish preparations on their shrine’s naoizasa, which is a long pole made of bamboo. Tied to the naoizasa are naoinuno. Naoinuno are pieces of cloth on which you write your name, age, and wish for the year. Wishes are usually modest and related to issues such as health or bad luck. Anyone can write a naoinuno, although it costs money to attach it to a naoizasa.


Naoizasa come in many shapes and sizes

A fair amount of work goes into the planning for each group. Hadaka otoko must register their intent to participate at their nearest sign up location There are no age requirements, so even small children, and on the rare occasion an infant, may be seen participating at the festival. Groups must submit a police report asking for permission to march through the streets from their shrine to Konomiya the day of the festival. On this march the hadaka otoko will carry their shrine’s naoizasa to deliver it to Konomiya. This act is called hounou. The Hadaka otoko of each group wear matching headbands, called hachimaki. Aside from their hachimaki, hadaka otoko will typically wear only a fundoshi, which is a holy undergarment. 

Hadaka otoko wearing fundoshi and hachimaki

Hadaka Matsuri itself is an all-day festival. Game and food stalls line the pathway of gates at Konomiya. In the morning smaller groups begin their hounou, by taking turns marching through the gates of Konomiya with their naoizasa. At one point, some groups may attempt to stand their naoizasa on its end, and the occasional hadaka otoko may even try to climb it. There’s no real reason for why this is done, though some people feel very strongly that not only is it dangerous, but it's disrespectful to the people who tied their naoinuno to the naoizasa.

One group standing their naoizasa on end

Once each shrine has completed its hounou, the main event can begin. The Konomiya Hadaka Matsuri revolves around a man called the shin otoko (神男), literally man of god. Unlike the hadaka otoko, the shin otoko is completely naked and shaved of all body hair except for his eyebrows. For three days before Hadaka Matsuri, he can only eat rice, takuwan, and drink hot water to purify himself, a cleansing process called okomori. Candidates who wish to become shin otoko submit applications, which are reviewed by priests of Konomiya Shrine and prior shin otoko. They must be young, in good physical condition, and unofficially able offer a gift of money to prior shin otoko, in return for their protection at the festival. Four final applicants are selected, who then participate in a lottery called omikuji, where they select twisted strands of paper to determine the year’s shin otoko.

On the day of the event, the shin otoko will attempt to cross through the gates of Konomiya and make it to the entrance of the shrine, called the naoiden. He is said to absorb all the ills and bad luck from the hadaka otoko who touch him. Therefore, for the main event all hadaka otoko will be trying to find and touch him. Many hadaka otoko drink sake liberally before participating in the event. This, combined with the cold temperature and crowding means that the Hadaka Matsuri can sometimes be quite dangerous. Each year a number of people sustain injuries, and throughout the history of Hadaka Matsuri people have even died. The shin otoko, at the center of all the pushing and shoving, will generally be bruised and battered by the end of the event.

Men at the naoiden attempting to pull in the shin otoko

However, there are Hadaka otoko designated to protect the shin otoko. He has three guards, all whom are prior shin otoko. Additionally, a smaller shrine will be designated to protect the shin otoko. There are only two shrines that may have this honor: Shoumeiji and Koike. . These Hadaka otoko are called teoketai, and have the duty of throwing water into the crowd, which serves several purposes. First, it cools down and lubricates the hadaka otoko to prevent injuries. Second, the water is thrown from the direction of the naoiden toward the hadaka otoko surrounding the shin otoko, with the intention of stalling them momentarily so that the shin otoko can advance toward the shrine. Teoketai run continuous circuits from the shrine well to pick up the water, to the shin otoko.

Banners for Koike and Shoumeiji

The teoke buckets used by the teoketai

The day climaxes when the exhausted shin otoko reaches the naoiden. It does not end, though. At midnight the shin otoko has another duty: he must carry something called dobei mochi, plus a doll, in circles around the chouya, which is a shrine building. The dobei mochi is made of year-old burned ashes of tsubute mixed with mud. Tsubute is made from branches of willow and peach, which are wrapped in paper. While the shin otoko is circling the chouya, tsubute will be thrown at him, which is also said to transfer bad luck from the thrower to the dobei mochi and doll that the shin otoko carries. This tsubute will be picked up by members of the shrine and burned, which will then be used to make the dobei mochi for the shin otoko of the following year.

Only after this is completed can the shin otoko rest.

The source of this ritual is actually pretty dark. It’s a reenactment of an old ritual where one unlucky man passing near a shrine would be forcefully captured to play the role of naoinin, or shin otoko. The people of the village would transfer their bad luck to him and then cast him out. Because it was inhumane the practice was banned, but later emerged in the form of this festival. Today the shin otoko is a revered role, and applicants for the position are strictly selected by Konomiya shrine priests and prior shin otoko.


  1. Rachel thank you for the post, we love you ♥♥ :))

  2. Fled From NowhereMarch 5, 2015 at 9:35 AM

    Where the heck are women? I'm sure that if there were women its video would be deleted from Youtube.

  3. Oh my God the guy was just randomly captured XD That is terrible !

  4. Thanks for the information!! The story is very interesting. When I heard about this festival I thought it was weird and didn't understand the point of it. This is the first time I see an explanation. Now I can appreciate this ritual. I hope I can learn more about Asian culture, it's really interesting!

  5. Wow, all of the preparation that goes into an event such as this is quite amazing! I do have one question though, forgive me if I missed this in the blog post, but why do all of the men have to be half naked to perform this ritual? Also, why does the shin otoko have to be completely naked?

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  7. You said this place was near Nagoya . . . I lived in Nagoya when I was studying abroad at Nanzan U . . . and I think I went to the exact festival with my friends! We saw one foreigner who was participating at the event - it was a lot of fun!!!

  8. Wonderful post Rachel! Thank you for all the info! I like that you research before writing / doing videos and that the info is told in a fun and easy to understand way. Have you considered teaching? You would have been my favorite teacher back in school. ^.^

    P.S. - Don't forget to update your blog's profile data! It says there you are still working in America. :)

    1. Oh, thank you!! haha
      I totally forgot to check that!!

  9. Haha, this seems like a very interesting festival indeed.

  10. Excuse me, would you please tell me, what's the model of the camcorder that you guys are using for making videos on YouTube?

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  12. Completely crazy!!! We definitely need to come next year! ;)

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