The hadaka matsuri (裸祭り) is over 500 years old, and it has to be one of the most hilarious and fun festivals I have ever visited in Japan. It is held on the coldest weekend in February (on the third Sunday of the month.) Around 10,000 men take part in this festival, with even more people involved as spectators. The event culminates at 10pm when priests drop some shingi sticks into the crowd which all the men try to grab in order to become a fukuotoko, or lucky man for the year.
Hadaka means naked in Japanese, but don’t expect to see fully naked blokes. Each participant actually wears a fundoshi, like a sumo. So although you will see 10,000 bottoms, there won’t be any willies on display (thank goodness.) If you’d prefer to see something a bit more phallic, head to the Penis festival instead.
Hadaka matsuri 2019 – the basics
Date: 15th February 2020 (It’s always the third weekend in February)
Location: Saidaiji Temple, Okayama
How to get there: There is a Saidaiji station on the Akō Line, about 10 minutes walk from the temple.
Extra tips: Dress warmly! There may be fundoshi-clad men, but this weekend is cold in Japan!
If you can read Japanese, you can find more details of the festival here and a leaflet about it here.
Hadaka matsuri (naked man festival) – Schedule
15:20 – Children’s hadaka matsuri
18:30 – 19:00 – Taiko performance
19:00 – 19:30 – Fireworks
22:00 – All the lights go out and the priests drop the shingi sticks.
I always love matsuri food! The hadaka matsuri has an excellent selection of yatai tents, serving up tasty treats, so make sure you stop off and eat before getting ready to stand in the cold for hours.
Taiko and Fireworks
If you arrive early-ish there is normally a taiko drumming performance on the steps of Saidaiji temple. After that, there will be some amazing fireworks. The best spot to see these is on the banks of the Yoshii river.
Where to view the festival
The first time I went to the festival, we didn’t really know what to expect, so we winged it and viewed the whole event from the temple courtyard. It was a cold, rainy day so although we had a pretty good view, I really wished we could see more. The second time we went, we booked tickets to enter the viewing platform, so we had a much better view, above the crowds. It costs ¥5,000 for reserved seats or ¥1,000 for standing seats.
Would you like to take part?
If you’re a man, and you’d like to take part in the event DO IT!! It’ll cost you ¥3000, for a kit with a fundoshi (loin cloth) and tabi (special socks). There are professionals that will help you into it. Just be aware of a few things:
- You need to register with the temple in advance.
- You’ll need to give your details, including your blood type
- You are not meant to take part if you have tattoos. I have friends that managed it, but they had to bandage or tape them up.
- Be careful on the steps of the temple. They are really steep and it would be easy to fall off in the crush of men. Some of my friends fell off and had bad scratches, so be careful!
- There are some blokes who wear black fundoshi that can be quite fighty. I was told many of them are part of the yakuza, Japanese mafia. Keep away from them.
- This festival is no joke! A bloke had a heart attack and died the first year we watched it. We only found out later when we saw the news.
The official rules are, no tattoos, no drinking and no fighting. It’s just, it seems like people don’t always adhere by the rules. My warnings make this sound terrifying, but everyone I know that took part said it was one of the best things they did in Japan. Still, be careful!
Hadaka matsuri – getting started
The first part of the festival involves the nearly naked men running in circles around the temple grounds to cheers (and the odd slap on the bottom from fiesty grandmas.) Each group runs and dunks themselves in a freezing pool of water, and then does another lap of the temple. They end up drinking quite an impressive amount of sake, so despite the cold, they all seem to be having a blast! The groups of men running together seemed to be mixtures of clubs, work colleagues and friends.
If you arrive early, then you’ll get plenty of time to see the runners. You can even go up the steps of the temple to see where they’ll end up next.
As the evening progresses, more and more men head up the temple steps to gather together.
Apparently, even on the coldest day, the heat of 9-10,000 bodies means the middle of that temple gets incredibly hot! This quote is from my friend Lucas, who took part four years in a row. “All sense of individuality is lost to the maddening crowd that surrounds us. We have ceased to be individual men but rather now comprise one gigantic, lumbering leviathan moving on its own accord.”
Dropping the Shingi
At 10pm all the lights go off for a moment and the priests drop the bambo shingi. This is the main event, and all the men are keen to get hold of it.
Total naked madness
This is the part that is hard for me to explain, because I have only seen it from afar. Anyone that can make it out with one of the shingi will be granted luck and good fertility for the upcoming year. That doesn’t sound like quite enough of a reason for what happens next. It is basically totally insane. There must be incredibly high levels of testosterone in that temple. The mass of bodies turn in on themselves and have a massive scrap while 10,000 men compete to grab the shingi sticks. There is fighting, and some blokes get flung from the temple steps in the madness.
Hadaka Matsuri – Want to read more?
One of my friends, Zack wrote about his account of taking part in the hadaka matsuri. I read the first version of this years ago, and it was the reason I first wanted to see this festival. I hope you like it too! Or, if you’d like to read about other fun/crazy Japanese festivals, please take a peek at my other Japan related posts.