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February 19, 2020

Thousands of Japanese gather for ‘naked festival’

World

February 19, 2020

TOKYO: Thousands braved chilly weather to gather at the annual "Naked Festival" in Okayama prefecture in the southern part of Japan's Honshu island.

The event, called "Hadaka Matsuri" in Japanese, is a wild and raucous festival held every year on the third Saturday of February at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple, about a 30-minute train ride from Okayama city.

But the 10,000 or so male participants aren't as naked as the festival's name suggests. They sport a minimal amount of clothing; usually a Japanese loincloth called a "fundoshi" and a pair of white socks called "tabi."

The festival, which celebrates the blessings of a bountiful harvest, prosperity and fertility, starts at around 3:20 p.m local time with a separate event for young boys -- aimed at fostering interest in younger generations.

"We hope they will be able to keep the tradition alive in the future," Mieko Itano, a spokeswoman from the Okayama tourism board, told foreign media.

In the evening, the men spend an hour or two running around the temple grounds in preparation and purify themselves with freezing cold water, before cramming themselves into the main temple building.

When the lights go out at 10 p.m., a priest throws 100 bundles of twigs and two lucky 20-centimeter-long shingi sticks into the crowd from a window four meters above.

That's when the commotion begins. The 10,000 or so men, packed in like sardines, jostle with each other to get hold of one of the bundles and/or the two sticks. Whoever succeeds is guaranteed a year of good fortune, according to legend.

The shingi are more sought after than the less-coveted twigs, which can be taken home. The whole event lasts around 30 minutes and participants emerge with a few cuts, bruises and sprained joints.

Visitors come from all across Japan and a few from abroad to take part. Some attend the event alone, but many participants join as part of teams representing local businesses.