Hadaka Matsuri 裸祭り (The Naked Man Festival)

Last weekend I headed down to Okayama 岡山 along with a couple buddies to participate in Saidaiji Temples annual Hadaka Matsuri 裸祭り. This has been an event I have long wanted to participate in, so it was certainly a check off my Japan bucket list.

Every year in the second weekend of February 9,000 or so men take part in the celebrations which in English are usually translated to the ‘Naked Man Festival’!

A brief summary of the festival would entail that a plethora of men annually head to the temple in the middle of winter.
At which they run laps of the temple grounds in teams of four wearing little more than a fundoshi 褌 (Japanese loincloth) and tabi 足袋 (traditional Japanese socks).
During each lap the participants jump into a waist deep fountain where their bodies are purified by the water.
After several hours of seemingly aforementioned insanity participants gather onto the temples stage, where they proceed to fight to obtain one of the lucky sticks that are thrown out of the upper floors by the temples priests.

It is believed that the man who successful makes it out of the chaos with a lucky stick, will be endowed with and entire year of good fortune!

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That’s the basics of it, but I’ll get into exactly what went down first hand.

Getting up early Saturday morning we departed Sannomiya 三宮 the center of Kobe on a 3 hour bus down to Okayama 岡山 where the festival is held.
To those who know anything of Japanese folklore, Okayama prefecture will ring familiar as the location of the immensely well know story Momotaro (Peach Boy).
The story holds a special place in my heart, as shortly after arriving in Japan, I played the main character Momotaro in a play at the Kobe Board of Education. Showcasing the feeble amount of Japanese I learnt during a week of intensive Japanese classes. To many ALTs it is also very familiar as a chapter featuring the story in English is contained within our students 6th grade textbooks.

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Anyhow us Naked Man lads striked a pose in front of the Momotaro statue at Okayama station prior to the event.

One thing about the festival is that tattoos are absolutely forbidden, an attempted discouraging the heavy yakuza presence that has plagued previous years festivals with violence and unnecessary injuries.
Having had a sizable back piece done a few years ago, I invested a great deal of thought into how to exactly circumvent the temples ruling on the issue.
I had considered covering it with large bandage, sticky kairo and even spray paint! However a few hours before the festival I reached an epiphany, electrical tap! Although I am quite confident it’s short of amazing for your skin it worked a charm for me , never did it begin to peal despite what I put my body through. Better yet no one said a word about the large patch on my back, although I wasn’t as if I was the only one in such a position.

Anyhow onto the meat of the tale, after a day of loitering around the city we boarded a bus alongside a couple dozen other ALTs from all over Japan, which transported us to Saidaiji Temple.
On route the manliness aboard said bus was tangible as bottles of whiskey, tequila, vodka and sakè flowed freely up and down the aisles.

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Our leader a representative from AJET fired up the boys, explaining in detail what exactly was going to go down that evening. Comradely bonds were forged between us through manly chanting, filthy exchanges and the consumption of grand quantities of liquor. By the time we arrived the windows to the bus were fogged over and sprits were high!

We marched as a great gaggle of gaijin to the temple grounds, nearing the entrance we sighted the stall selling our required outfits the fundoshi 褌 and tabi 足袋 costing us 2000円. After purchasing said ‘outfits’ we entered a large adjacent tent where we handed over another 1000円 to have a couple elderly volunteers ‘dress us’
Inside we were motioned to strip naked and queue alongside the other similarly butt naked guys. Reaching the front of the queue an old man unrolled my fundoshi material told me to hold the top of it under my chin as he strapped it around my waist ‘extremely’ tightly!
I’m not going to go into the mechanics of exactly what happens when that amount of pressure is exerted against ones manly parts, but use your imagination, thank god it was already cold.

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The boys after our first lap around the temple.

After the dressing (if you can call it that) was done with we took to the streets! From the moment I stepped outside the relative warmth of the tent and felt the chill of the cold night make it’s way across my skin a sudden yet brief panic came over me……. you know the feeling, the fuck fuck fuck what have I got myself into kind.
Luckily it was short lived as I grasped the shoulders of my almost but not quite naked comrades. We ran from the tent in teams of four, arm in arm, ribs pushed up against one another’s in an attempt to salvage any scrap of warmth we could from our buddies.

We ran through streets towards the temple grounds, flanked by thousands and thousands of onlookers separated by a long chain of uniformed police presence. Camera crews and photographers ran alongside us trying to capture every moment, putting forth a plethora of questions. However my mind was ironclad focused on the task at hand, one foot in front of the other.
As each team runs, one guy in each foursome chants わっしょい (wasshoi) which is then echoed by a reply wasshoi by the other 3, the chant I guess might be equivalent to something like Heave, Ho! in English.

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After a few minutes of running we come to the fountain, we hesitate, but are swept by the momentum of the group and the anticipation of the eager crowds. I waiver, I regret, but ultimately I clench! The waist deep freezing water hits me like a ton of bricks, my body stops accepting my commands for a moment, the cold takes me, yet I 頑張れ!

Look I guess cold is relative depending upon where in the world you hail from, I myself came from the down under and not even a particularly warm part of it at that. However that said running around in my underpants dripping wet on a night a degree or two above freezing, certainly left me colder than I had ever found myself in my life prior to that point.

We run from the fountain to the empty stage, my body no on autopilot. We stop for a moment and turn around, this is the first time I look out at the spectators and fully appreciate the true scale of the event. Eyes are all on us as the night is still young and there are few teams out running.
In lieu of returning to our team tent to try and claim a few moments out of the cold we then make what I now consider a poor decision in hindsight.
A YOLO moment takes hold of us (in the most un-ironic of ways) screaming もう一度 (one more time) we charge once more towards the purification fountain.
After the first plunge my feet had begun to feel like pieces of dead meat attached to my body, the second time in a span of a few minutes allowed this sensation to creep up towards my thighs.
Needless to say by this point instinct had taken hold of me, little time was spared in deciding it was indeed time to return to our tent.

Upon entering I was disheartened to realize there was one tiny stove burning to warm the hundreds of participants sharing the tent for the night. Luckily however it was not long before a large group of those crowding around the one small source of warmth decided to charge out once again into the chilly night air towards the fountain.

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As mentioned earlier, our fundoshi are not something we can simply remove and re-adorn, so if you need to take a slash once in the get up it’s game over. And so we switched over to consuming straight liquor to keep spirits high and bellies warm, perhaps not the most amazing choice of beverage for a chilly winter night tuning a makeshift marathon but it got the job done.
These efforts combine with the somewhat dangerous (in hindsight) practice of pushing my numb feet directly into the metal of the burning stove, slowly allowed me to reclaim my previously frozen flesh.

Now I guess towards the later hours of the evening the proceedings became a little fuzzy. However after the grand scramble for the lucky sticks the festival ended quite abruptly and I was left feeling a little disappointed at the anticlimax of it all. I soon found myself once again donning my heavy jacket and downing a midnight bowl of udon from a roadside vendor, before boarding our bus back to Okayama station.

Of course with such a large festival being held in what is realistically quite the modest sized city, accommodation was more or less impossible to secure. I tried hotels, mangakiss and even love hotels finding little more than no-vacancy sign at every turn. Eventually we resolved to spend the night in the only warm place we could find, a 24hour McDonalds, an experience I will surely never recommend.

Anyhow the morning eventually rolled around and we got our 7:15 am bus back to Kobe. All in all Hadaka Matsuri made for one hell of a weekend, one I’m fairly sure I will be keen to repeat next year!

Wasshoi Wasshoi!

-Dan

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Iga Ueno Ninja Festival 伊賀上野 NINJA フェスタ

???????????????? Iga Ueno Ninja Festival 伊賀上野 NINJA フェスタ is a 5 week event that is run by the city of Iga 伊賀市 in Mie prefecture 三重県 from April 1 to May 6 each year. When the suggestion came about to hire a car with a couple friends and drive down for the weekend I was more than keen to get my ninja on!

337 Departing in the wee hours of the morning we made the trip from Kobe to Iga (around 130km) in about 3 hours taking the extremely expensive toll roads and at times thinking we were going to die due to the ‘skilful’ driving of ‘Lady Wei’. Generally its crazy to drive in Japan due to the cost, however with 4 people in the car the split cost was comparable to what the train fare would have been and far easier since Iga is fairly inaka. 332 Post arrival we were met up with another 20 or so JETs from across Kansai who had also been invited to participate in the days festivities, before being greeted by the Iga city JET who took us to the city hall where we would receive our ninja costumes for the day! 325 Now I assure you although the ninja garb appears to be quite simple, each outfit was made up of 9 separate parts that needed to me meticulously put on in just the right way, lets just say thank god they had helper ninjas to dress the clueless gaijin XD 243 MokuMoku Farm& Ninja Museum 152 ninjamuseum2007lg After suiting up the city had organized a walking ninja tour for us, which included a stop at the Iga Ninja Museum 伊賀流忍者博物館. Dedicated to the history of the ninja and ninjutsu, it showcases a wide array of genuine ninja tools and weaponry, in addition it contains a model ninja village where we were lead around by female ninja who demonstrated all the secrets of the house that could be used in case of intruders, such as hidden weapons, secret doors and deadly traps! 253 258 After the tour of the village concluded, our next stop was a live ninja show! Hilariously cheesy it featured shuriken throwing demonstrations and a number of mock ninja battles demonstrating the various ninja fighting techniques and weaponry. The best part being that with each fictional kick, punch or sword slash there was an accompanying ninja battle sound effect and often smoke bombs! ALL THE WINNING!

The afternoon we occupied with heading up to Iga Ueno Castle 伊賀上野城, a cute little castle perched upon a hill, its elegent design resulted in it often being refered to as White Phoenix Castle however it is a reconstruction of the original that was destroyed by a storm in the 16th century. 280 313 319 273 Whilst up on the hill we decided to take some fun ninja battle photos XD 379 380 To conclude the days festivities, we headed to the ninja café to sample some ‘ninja deserts’ with our fellow ALTs come ninja. The four of us decided upon the shinobi parfait 忍びパフェ, the café’s speciality which came with an edible shuriken 手裏剣 (throwing star). 352 348 We were also meccha lucky to run into the actors into the actors from the ninja show outside of the café who posed to take some photos with us *^^* 234 245 During the festival the entire city of Iga is filled with these ninja mannequins that are hidden everywhere you look. IMG_1842 Finally although it was very convenient for us to drive since we saved a huge amount of time and headaches with transfers, I would have liked to had had the chance to ride the ‘ninja train’ LOOK HOW KAWAII IT IS!!! (and free for ninja to ride during the festival. If your ever in Kansai around April head down to Iga, its certainly worth the trip to the countryside to get to be ninja for a day!

Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri 岸和田 だんじり祭

On the weekend of September 15th, myself along with a pair of Mikes headed over to Kishiwada 岸和田 for the annual Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri 岸和田だんじり祭 (float festival).

Although technically in Osaka 大阪, Kishiwada over 30km away from the city center with a population of over 200000 it’s hardly inaka.

We were lead on the days adventures by the ever hospitable and informative Tsuji-san, who is a local resident of Kishiwada.

It has been recorded that the Danjiri Matsuri began in 1703 the 16th year of the Genroku era. Started by the Daimyo of Kishiwada, Okabe Nagayasu, when he prayed to Shinto gods at Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社 (my favourite place in all of Japan) for a plentiful harvest.

To summarize what exactly occurs on the weekend of the matsuri, each district of the city pulls their respective danjiri 檀尻 (portable shrine) through the streets of the town.
Consisting of anywhere from 200-1200 families each district has its own danjiri and alongside this a unique uniform that displays the name of the neighborhood, and the danjiri’s symbol.
They are accompanied by a kumi 組 (Pulling team) who pull the cart (which I was told weigh around 4-4.5 tons) via one of two long ropes that are attached to the front of the danjiri, whilst yelling their respective kakegoe 掛け声 (a chant to encourage activity).
Meanwhile the seinen-dan 青年團 (Young man group) on board the danjiri beat taiko 太鼓 (Japanese drums) kane 鐘 (Japanese bells).
Fueled by a plethora of onigiri お握り (rice balls) and Asahi beer the seinen-dan pull the danjiri round corners at frightful speeds. In fact each team try’s their best to out do each other in how fast they can maneuver a corner!
To add to the spectacle trailing the danjiri is a grand entourage of chanting spectators, made up of members of the local community from children to elderly.

Comically there is also a guy called the daiku-gata 大工方 (cartwright) who ‘surfs’ on the roof of each danjiri riding each corner as if its a giant 4 ton skateboard! Traditionally this role is reserved for the carver of the danjiri but these days it’s often a young man from the community, who can dance around the roof of danjiri, wave around his fans yet still maintain balance!
Also to add a scary note to things, I was told around 40 men have died participating in the Danjiri matsuri in the past 100 years, and unsurprisingly it is one of the most dangerous matsuri in Japan.

During the rest of the year the danjiri is kept in storage in one of these large gararges. As the matsuri draws near, the danjiri decorated each year with elaborate flower arrangements, prayer cards and ornaments by members of the local community,

Of course amongst all this Danjiri Matsuri has all the regualr fanfare of a typical summer matsuri, food stalls selling dishes such as takoyaki  蛸焼, baby castella ベビカステラ, kakigoroi かき氷, wataame 綿飴 and aisu kyuuri 氷胡瓜. We picked up some delicious Chinese Xiao Long, aisu kyuuri and chocolate coated bananas ^_^

Also along side the food there was also a range of vendors peddling Japanese carnival games for children and we are of course all just big kids!

42nd Minato Kobe Fireworks Festival (港神戸花火大会)


Last Saturday Evening was the 42nd Kobe Minato Hanabi Matsuri (港神戸花火大会), the largest fireworks display in Kobe throughout the year.

Being the charitable lad that i am(read: who wouldn’t want an entourage of yukata clad babes) I took a couple of the new Aussie girls yukata 浴衣 (a light summer version of a kimono) shopping the evening prior, and so donning our most babin threads we hitt the town on a shouchu/takoyaki fuelled adventure.

This was the festival map for the evening and this little engrish gem I found really amusing. Lets Just say ‘shooting-up area’ back home is generally found at 3am in a McDonalds bathroom.

On our way to Harborland we stumbled upon a small matsuri that was happening in front of Campus Square (crazy as this is like 300m from most JETs who live in Gakuentoshi’s front door).

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Although quaint in size the Matsuri 祭(Japanese festival) boasted many performances and cheap food stalls (half the price they usually are at matsuri) and kids festival games.
The 4 of us being the only gaijin there and all of us wearing yukata needless to say we got many stares.
As all the signs were in kanji which we all have limited knowledge, one thing that took us a while to work out what we were doing wrong was that you had to buy tickets to exchange for food, luckily the vendors were more than understanding that we were Baka gaijin (>人<;)

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One event I was meccha impressed by was the Taiko performance, these guys were intense!!

Anyhow we eventually escaped the lure of cheap Takoyaki/Karage and embarked on a misadventurous journey to Harborland where the Hanabi were happening in the bay.

Now this is my 3rd matsuri in as many weeks, however my first in Kobe, one thing I have noticed that is applicable to all of them thus far, is that your phone will become as useful as a paperweight once you arrive.
The mobile phone networks are simply not built to handle the sheer volume of people that flood an area during a major (this was one) matsuri, think 100,000s-1,000,000 people.

Alas if your reading this and ever considering attending a matsuri MEET YOUR FRIENDS PRIOR TO ARRIVING!
Now based upon the fact that your phone won’t work you can imagine how impossible it is to find someone amongst the literal sea of people that tend to be present (even if they are gaijin who tend to stick out everywhere)

We spent a good hour looking for our friends who we knew were within a 100m radius of us but were all but lost in the crowds. After resigning all hope of uniting with the other group we decided to simply get in on the typical matsuri festivities, drinking too much, eating crazy festival foods and watching the Hanabi 花火 (fireworks).
Japan certainly takes its fireworks seriously too, with displays usually lasting a good hour or so, also as they almost always are located in large cities filled with skyscrapers, if you get lost in the crowds without a clear view it sounds like there are air raids and the city is under attack XD

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The fireworks displays really were something else, totally magical with harborland as a backdrop! Was certainly nice to be able to experience such festivities without having to leave my home city for once, although it was missing many of the cultural aspects that are often found at other matsuri, regardless meccha tanoshii!!!! ^______^

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