Okayama and the Naked Man Festival

February proved to be a busy month as I was going to a lot of events.  I wasn’t planning on going to the Okayama Naked Man Festival but after my friend invited me, I was in.  Only to watch though, not to participate!

We got to Okayama a bit early in the day so we could check it out.  We ended up going to Okayama Castle and the nearby garden.  The castle was pretty nice and had the rare black color to it.  I’ve heard there are only a handful of castles with this color, Okayama Castle being one of them.  We ran into a volunteer tour guide that basically forced his way into showing us around.

He simply glanced at us and asked “Can any of you understand Japanese?”  I raised my hand and he quickly replied “Okay, you’re translating then!”  What ensued was him going to specific spots of the castle grounds and would go into this long-winded explanation.  Afterwards he would stare at me until I started translating to my friends.  I did my best to translate.  In the end it was a pretty informative tour and we got some nice pictures out of it.

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The gardens were also really nice.  Luckily it was a sunny day and the weather was warm so we weren’t freezing.  I’m sure the garden looks a lot nicer during the spring.

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After visiting the castle, we decided to rest for a little bit at the hotel before going to the festival.  In this festival, hundreds of men, young and old, wear nothing but a fundoshi (basically a cloth covering your junk).  After hours of psyching you and your group up, receiving blessed water from the shrine and chanting non-stop throughout the winter night, the event hits its climax when everyone gathers for the opportunity to grab a couple of sacred sticks.  These sticks drop from a location and the objective is to grab it and run to the exit while avoiding hundreds of other naked guys who want the same thing.  If you can do this, it is said you will receive great luck for an entire year.  Anyone can participate but I can assure you that will never happen with me.

Marching to battle.

Marching to battle.

Freezing my butt off with no clothes is one thing but another is the risk of injury.  The main event takes place at a shrine where hundreds of men stand on tiny steps and platforms, waiting for the opportunity to grab the stick.  It is so crowded that it’s a common for a lot of guys to lose balance and fall, creating a mini domino effect.  Just waiting for the event to start we saw a few guys being carried away by paramedics due to heat exhaustion or injuries.  And the event hadn’t even started yet!   The atmosphere is also very intense as hundreds of men are chanting off the top of their lungs.  It’s as if they were bloodthirsty.

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This video I took doesn’t show the intensity but trust me, it’s there:

When the stick finally drops, the entire stage goes to black for a few seconds.  After that, it’s pure confusion.  To be honest, I couldn’t tell who won as everyone just looked really confused.  After awhile, we decided to leave to beat the crowd.  The animal in me was expecting some huge ass brawl to occur to grab the stick but it never happened.  Honestly though, it’s probably better that it didn’t.   Plus it had been raining the entire time so we wanted to just dry up after standing in it for hours.

The Naked Man Festival was an experience.  Would I go again?  Probably not.  But it’s one of those things you have to go once just to experience it.

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I’ve been to Okayama three times already. And somehow, it keeps pulling me back in.

 

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