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Note: The opinions and views expressed in this user report are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of japan-guide.com.

February 21, 2016 - Hadaka Matsuri: Saidaji Temple Okayama

For the past 500 or so years on the 3rd Saturday in February, the Saidaiji Temple near Okayama city has celebrated the Hadaka Matsuri which is more commonly known as the "Naked Man Festival". For those who don't know much about the festival, hopefully the following post will explain a little bit more about the festival.

To attend the Hadaka Matsuri, it's best to catch the train from Okayama station to Saidaiji Station via the Ako line (18-24 minutes, 240 yen one way). Once you get to the station, it's around a 10-12 minute walk along the main street to Saidaiji temple. Also note that there is some basic English instructions on how to get to the temple at the station, but asking any local person where Saidaiji temple will be able to help point you in the right direction.

For those who don't know, there are 3 different parts of the festival which you can view at different times. The general times are below:

3:50PM: The kids version of the matsuri. This runs for about an hour and I would suggest getting here before 3PM to get a good seat or a good place for photos.

6PM & 8:30PM: Taiko Drumming. To see this, you'll probably need to get here by 5PM. Do note that I think it costs 5,000 yen to buy a seat which will give you a good view of the drumming and main matsuri.

10PM: Main matsuri. To get into the temple, you will need to get here at least before 8pm and to get a seat at least before 5pm

Saidaiji main hall
Where the participants will bathe later

Before the kids matsuri started, some of the local tv stations interviewed last years winner which can be seen above. To give you a basic explanation of what happens, a few hundred men come in at the same time and go into the water in the previous picture. Then - a priest from the temple will throw a stick into the crowd of fundoshi clad men that are trying to get the stick. If you can capture the stick with no-one else having their hands on it - you are meant to have a year of good luck.

Members of the temple getting ready for the kids matsuri

For the kids performance, there are three main ages. They are Grade 1/2 (no headband), Grade 3/4 (Blue Headband) and Grade 5/6 (Red Headband). The Grade 1/2's come in and try and catch sweets, the Grade 3/4's do something similar and the Grade 5/6's also fight over a stick like the adults. Do note that due to numbers there were multiple groups of each grade level.

Also, each group of kids came in first with a plaque brought in by some scouts. Do note that none of the actual participants (apart from the scouts) can be female.

The next few photos will show the basic outline of what happens for the performance.

Once the scouts have passed, the man above leads the boys who are normally in groups of 4 to the Tori gate where they will bathe in the extremely cold water.

The kids may look wet - but this is just from the rain

The picture above shows the kids heading to the water. If you look carefully, you can actually see the the tori gate which was shown a few photos earlier.

The kids waiting to go into the water
The boys once they have been in the water - note the cold look

Once the kids have entered the water, they start to congregate near an elevated platform where a priest has a bucket of hot water that he throws over the crowd, along with the stick which the boys fight over. If you look closely to the top left, you can see some droplets of water which have been thrown by the main priest.

The boys shivering which they wait for the stick to be thrown

The picture above shows the kids starting to fight over the stick once it has been thrown from the priest. Note the steam coming from the kids once they get close to each other.

The boys end up fighting over the stick for over 10-15 minutes
The first group was taking so long that the second group waited in the main hall

As mentioned before, there were different aged groups and it's fair to say that the little ones are not made of as stronger stuff as the older kids. Let's just say there was some crying and strong complaining about being cold which I would have probably been doing as well.

Due to the rain and an annoying person who stole my umbrella (note - clear umbrellas seem to almost be seen as communal property and much more likely to be stolen) I decided to go back to my hotel and change as well as dry out. The kids performance finished around 5PM and the main performance started at 10PM. As such, I thought I had plenty of time to get back for the main show.

Just to let you know, there are only around 2-3 trains an hour on the Ako line and I got to Saidaiji station a little after 8pm. Unfortunately for me, the main street to the temple was closed and there was a lot of visitors around so there was no way I would get anywhere near the temple. As such - I unfortunately missed the main event but did see quite a lot of the 7,000 or so Japanese men move towards the temple.

As you start to visit more Matsuri's or festivals, the one thing you notice is that the participants often come from different companies. For example, the above participants came from Japan post. For most tourists - they actually get to witness the men congregating to go to the temple once they have changed into their fundoshi. Do note that many of the participants are 'very drunk' and you can often smell alcohol. However, I would need to get drunk to wear a Fundoshi in winter, get wet and then fight over a stick. There is also a lot of chanting and a strong festive feeling.

The main street to the temple
As it got closer to 10pm - the crowds even far away got larger. This was around 700 meters from the temple at 9:20pm

So as you can probably guess - I called it a night slightly early as there was absolutely no way that I could get to the temple wth both the closed streets and the large crowds. That does not mean that I did not highly enjoy myself.

For tomorrow, I will be heading back to Takamatsu to catch a train back to Shanghai for work. It's an odd thing to say - but to get home I need to catch a train, bus, plane, bus and train. There will be one short wrap up post after this in a couple of days which talks about travelling around Shikoku which is one of the quieter areas in Japan.

But anyway - I should get back to planning my April trip to Xi'an or my Greek and Andalusian sojourn for summer vacation

Further information

Saidaiji Temple: http://www.saidaiji.jp (in Japanese)

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