Stripped-Down Shinto

Yesterday morning as the sun rose over Inazawa (the town neighbouring ours) in central Japan it was a crisp minus 3 degrees and there was unmelted snow lying in shady areas. Thousands of local men clearly thought, “What a beautiful day to dress in nothing but a loincloth and walk around for hours exposed to the elements as a participant in the Inazawa Hadaka Matsuri (Inazawa Naked Festival)”. I make this ridiculous claim only because yesterday I saw with my own eyes thousands of men dressed in nothing but loincloths walk around for hours in the chilly north wind, as willing participants in the Inazawa Hadaka Matsuri.

Small Group
It starts like this, with small groups of local men congregating outside of houses and community centres near their homes.

This is just one of a number of “naked ” festivals across Japan, which are said to have originated in the Nara Period (710 to 794 AD).

Early in the afternoon, groups of local men in loincloths started to appear outside houses and community centres, drinking saké, chanting together, jogging on the spot, and generally looking cold and embarrassed. After spending some time cutting circuitous routes through the backstreets they then slowly converged at the entrance to Konomiya Shrine. By this time their bodies had warmed up due to an unusual combination of alcohol and exercise, and cold water was sprayed on them in order to prevent skin rash as the crowd of semi-naked men became increasingly thick and uncomfortably close.

This festival centres around one man – the Shin-okoto (literally “god man”), who is incidentally the only participant who is actually naked (apart from those unfortunate middle-aged men who could occasionally be seen having “wardrobe malfunctions” midway through the festivities). Shinto traditionalists believe that touching the Shin-okoko cleanses one of sin, evil and other general misfortune. I don’t know how much traction this gains amongst the majority of younger Japanese – who are basically superstitious secularists – but in Japan once something becomes a tradition the fact that it has become so is reason enough to continue to do it. Towards the end of the festival the Shin-otoko basically crowd-surfs his way up to a small door in the shrine building, in which, with the loss of any small amount of remaining dignity, he is involuntarily inserted.

Larger Crowd
Groups all converge on the route to Konomiya Shrine.

This isn’t moderately absurd. This is completely nuts.

Kounomiya Jinja
This is Konomiya Shrine - the final destination of the Shin-otoko. Notice the VERY SENSIBLE amount of winter clothes being worn by the spectators. A few hours later and one will have to fight for the air to breath is this arena.

8 thoughts on “Stripped-Down Shinto

  1. Hen des; kuri kuri par??? Crazy.
    I do notice some men have a lot more blubber than some of the really skinny men, must have been terrible for them, but it’s their choice, maybe.
    I wonder what they do to ‘break the ice’…fart???
    Good on you, always enjoy reading your snippets of Japanese life.

  2. bruce harper

    In the absence of photographic evidence, I can only presume that you have not fully embraced many local customs. Trust that you are all well.

  3. Jonathan Fry

    Maybe not so crazy…human nakedness, sinfulness, need to be connected to the Godman to have sins forgiven…..remind you of anyone? A good opening to talk with people about the Lord Jesus?

  4. Susannah

    My grandmother would be relieved that at least their loincloths are keeping their kidneys warm. (Not sure if this particular belief is a Ukrainian absurdity, or more universal. I could be wrapped in the hide of a polar bear but if my lower back were exposed, I certainly die from kidney exposure.)

    1. Kidney exposure is a serious matter indeed. On a less serious note, I’m amazed that you were able to write a comment on a post about a naked festival containing the phrase “my grandmother would be relieved”.

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