What is Hadaka Matsuri? Inside Japan's annual 'Naked Festival'

The annual Hadaka Matsuri (Naked Festival) was celebrated on Saturday, February 15 at Japan's Honshu island

Thousands of worshipers braved chilling weather to take part in Japan's annual 'Hadaka Matsuri', or 'Naked Festival', on Saturday (February 15). It's an annual festival, celebrated on the third Saturday of February, at the Saidaiji Kannonin temple.

How is the festival celebrated?

Hadaka Matsuri
Twiter/Ambassade Japon FR

Thousands of Japanese men participate in Hadaka Matsuri--an annual harvest festival for bountiful harvest and prosperity, with a separate event for young boys, aimed at inculcating agricultural interests among them. The festival commences at 3:20 pm [Local Time], in which men sport minimal clothing-generally the Japanese loincloth, called fundoshi, along with a pair of socks, called 'tabi'.

It's celebrated at the Saidaiji Kannonin temple in Okayama prefecture in the southern part of Japan's Honshu island, CNN reported.

During the ritual, men spend the initial hours running around the temple grounds and through a fountain of near-freezing water, in order to purify their bodies and souls. They, then enter the main temple complex.

At 10:00 pm, the lights go out and the temple's priest throws two lucky sticks, called shingi, along with a bundle of hundred twigs, at the crowd. Tens of thousands of men tussle among themselves to get hold of either the bundles or the two lucky sticks. Whoever succeeds is guaranteed a year of good fortune, according to the legend. The whole event lasts for about 30 minutes, often resulting in bruises and injuries. A similar ritual takes place during the day, in which elementary school boys participate.

A 500-years old festival

The tradition goes back to 500 years, during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573) when devotees tussled for paper talismans, called 'Go-o', thrown at them by the priest of Saidaiji Kannonin temple. Over time, the participants realized that the coveted paper ripped and their clothes often came in their way. Hence, paper talismans were replaced with wooden sticks and clothes with minimal clothing. Japan designated the festival, an 'Important Intangible Folk Culture Asset' in 2016.