Warning: if you are offended by seeing 10,000 men in traditional Japanese festival loincloths like the logo below (いなッピー), don’t scroll down.
We went to see the Kounomiya Hadaka Matsuri (国府宮裸祭り – naked festival) in Inazawa (稲沢市) on the outskirts of Nagoya. The festival’s official name is Naoi Shinji (儺追神事), a Shinto evil expelling ritual. The festival has its roots in the 1st century where the governor of the Owari Domain (current Aichi Prefecture) practiced an exorcism at Kounomiya Shrine to ward off a plague epidemic. In a practice that continued until the 18th century, to commemorate the exorcism, shinto priests and contributors forcefully capture a man (not of the samurai class or beggars) with spears and swords that they would randomly come across 4km from the shrine in that year’s lucky direction. The captured man, shin-otoko (神男) is forced to carry the misfortunes of the domain and then driven out from that domain.
The festival’s current form, which started in the 19th century, represents the struggle to forcefully capture the shin-otoko. The festival is held on the 13th day of the lunar calendar new year. The shin-otoko is chosen from a group of voluntary candidates on the 2nd day of the lunar calendar. Its considered a great honor to serve as shin-otoko. The day before the festival, the shin-otoko is purified and shaved hairless excepts for his eyebrows. On the day of the festival, the shin-otoko will make his way up sandou (参道 – road approaching a shrine) where 10,000 men in loincloths will attempt to touch him so that they can transfer their misfortunes to him for the New Year. Unlike the other men, the shin-otoko is totally naked, but you can’t tell since he’s always surrounded. After the festival, the shin-otoko (who is beaten up from his journey up the sandou) is taken to the outskirts of touch carrying a mud mochi cake (which represents all the misfortunes) and runs around in circles along a path where people throw pebbles at him. The mud mochi cake is then buried.
The following video, explores the roots of the Kounomiya Hadaka Matsuri:
The day of the festival was cold (~42F). It had snowed the previous day and through the night. As we approached Inazawa, there was a noticeable presence of police.
Spectators were starting to gather at Kounomiya Shrine, the festival junk food stalls lined the sandou.
Mid-point of the sandou
The participating men are in groups representing neighborhoods. Each group will create a naoi-zasa (儺追笹), a pole make of bamboo wrapped in small pieces of cloth, each with wishes written by those who cannot participate such as women or elderly. A group getting ready to start – once they start, they will remain in just a loincloth for several hours in the cold.
Each group will then carry the naoi-zasa through the streets, up the sandou and then offered by plunging it into the shrine (some sort of phallic symbolism).
Once a group has delivered their naoi-zasa, they wait for other groups to deliver theirs. The sandou fills up as more groups deliver their naoi-zasa. I’ve never seen so many men shaking uncontrollably and twitching butt cheeks from the cold.
Finally the oke-tai (桶隊) arrives carrying buckets (oke). This group guards the shin-otoko from getting trampled by throwing buckets of cold water.
The shin-otoko then makes his way up the sandou with the 10,000 participants trying to touch him and the guards protecting him by throwing cold water. Each group usually has a spotter pointing out the location of the shin-otoko. They stand on the temporary fence set up to separate the spectators from the participants – and blocking the view with another not always pleasant view. The spotters also push into the spectators especially when cold water is splashed – the man next to me had his glasses broken when one crashed into his face.
Once the shin-otoko reaches the shrine, he is rescued by the priests that grab him and drag him into the shrine. See video posted by someone from last year’s festival with a much better viewing point – the first attempt to rescue the shin-otoko is at the 4:30 mark.
The participants make their way back, wet, bruised, and very cold. Some to buses awaiting them – but since traffic is closed around the shrine, they have a long walk.
Festival (matsuri) is probably the wrong word to describe this event – it more a ritual. Matsuri you think of it being a happy event – this one is a bit more grueling, but very entertaining.
After the festival, we had dinner at Nagoya Station, before heading to Tokyo.