(CNN) — This time a yr in the past, hundreds gathered for Japan’s annual Hadaka Matsuri — additionally popularly often known as the “Naked Festival”– in Okayama prefecture within the southern a part of Honshu island.
In right now’s local weather of social distancing, the video highlights from final yr’s occasion (see above) are a surreal reminder of how a lot has modified since then.
Also often known as Saidaiji Eyo, Hadaka Matsuri takes place on the third Saturday of February on the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple, a few 30-minute prepare journey from Okayama metropolis. And this yr was no exception.
But the Covid-19 pandemic has forged its lengthy shadow over 2021 proceedings, forcing organizers to pare issues down considerably.
A battle between 10,000 males
Hadaka Matsuri celebrates the blessings of a bountiful harvest, prosperity and fertility.
In regular occasions, it begins mid-afternoon with an occasion for younger boys — geared toward fostering curiosity in youthful generations. In the night, the 10,000 or so male members spend an hour or two operating across the temple grounds in preparation and purify themselves with freezing chilly water, earlier than cramming themselves into the principle temple constructing.
They aren’t as bare because the pageant’s identify suggests. They sport a minimal quantity of clothes; often a Japanese loincloth referred to as a “fundoshi” and a pair of white socks referred to as “tabi.”
In this image taken on February 18, 2017, worshippers anticipate the priest to throw the sacred batons in the course of the annual Hadaka Matsuri at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/AFP by way of Getty Images
When the lights exit at 10 p.m., a priest throws 100 bundles of twigs and two fortunate 20-centimeter-long sacred shingi batons into the group from a window 4 meters above.
It’s a scene that might be unthinkable right now. The males, packed in like sardines, jostle with one another to pay money for one of many bundles and/or the 2 sticks. Whoever succeeds is assured a yr of fine fortune, in line with legend. (The shingi are extra wanted than the less-coveted twigs, which may be taken residence.)
The entire occasion lasts round 30 minutes and members emerge with a couple of cuts, bruises and sprained joints.
Visitors usually come from all throughout Japan and some from overseas to participate.
But occasion organizers confirmed to CNN Travel that this yr’s Hadaka Matsuri occasion, which passed off on February 20, was restricted to solely a choose, socially distanced group of 100 or so males who had caught the shingi in previous years, and was closed to spectators.
Rather than battle for the batons, the boys gathered on the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple to hope for fertility, an finish to the pandemic and world peace, whereas observing security measures together with social distancing.
Uninterrupted for 500 years
As a part of the Naked Festival, members purify themselves with freezing chilly water earlier than coming into the principle temple.
Trevor Williams/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Why not simply cancel your complete occasion?
In an announcement highlighting their causes for going forward with a severely downsized model of the pageant, organizers famous that it is has continued uninterrupted for over 500 years.
“In discussion with the chief priest and committee members, we have reached the conclusion that we need to pray (for) Eyo now,” stated Saijaiji Eyo chairman Minoru Omori. Eyo pertains to a time period referred to as “ichiyo-raifuku,” which suggests “to withstand the harsh, cold winter and reach the warmth of spring.”
“In other words, we pray for good luck after continuous bad things,” stated Omori.
The Naked Festival advanced from a ritual that began 500 years in the past in the course of the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), when villagers competed to seize paper talismans, which got out by a priest on the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple.
More and extra villagers needed these fortunate paper talismans and the ritual grew in dimension. But they realized that once they went to seize the paper it ripped. Their garments simply bought in the best way too, so that they finally did away with them and exchanged paper for wooden, defined Mieko Itano, a spokeswoman from the Okayama tourism board, in a 2020 interview with CNN Travel.
With its lengthy heritage, the pageant was additionally designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in 2016. It’s one in all a number of “naked festivals” held throughout Japan, with one other held at Yotsukaido in Chiba prefecture, that includes males in loincloths combating and carrying children by way of mud as a technique of exorcism.
Japan and Covid-19
Daily Covid-19 circumstances have been in decline in latest weeks in Japan, although Tokyo is amongst a number of prefectures beneath a state of emergency to manage the virus. The nation has reported greater than 424,000 Covid-19 circumstances and greater than 7,000 deaths.
The pandemic pressured organizers to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics final yr, with the video games set to start on July 23, 2021.