July 25, 2024

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The final celebration was a shortened version and ended around 11:00pm

What’s the story

The ancient Hadaka Matsuri festival, more commonly known as “Naked Festival,” has come to a poignant end due to Japan’s aging population.

The 1,000-year-old ritual, which takes place at Kokuseki Temple in Iwate Prefecture throughout the night of the 7th day of the Lunar New Year, came to an end on Saturday.

The final celebration was a shortened version and ended around 11:00pm, but it drew the largest crowd in recent memory, according to locals.

Why does this story matter?

Japan’s society has aged more quickly than in most other countries. The trend has led numerous schools, shops, and services to close, particularly in small or rural regions.

The local community’s diminishing and aging population has also resulted in fewer participants, raising questions about the viability of sustaining this physically demanding event.

The situation has been aggravated by the migration of younger generations to cities, as maintaining traditions that require active involvement has become increasingly difficult for the elderly.

Festival evolved from a tradition that began 500 years ago

The festival evolved from a tradition that began 500 years ago during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573). It celebrates the blessings of a bountiful harvest, prosperity and fertility.

But in recent years, this festival has become a tremendous burden on the aging locals, who struggle to keep up with the ritual’s rigors.

Daigo Fujinami, the temple’s resident monk, stated, “Behind the scenes, there are many rituals and so much work that has to be done. It is very difficult to organize.”

Festival was interrupted for the 1st time in 2021

The festival first saw a hiccup in its uninterrupted 500-year history during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021.

For the first time in history, the festival was limited to a select, socially distant group of about 100 men. Spectators were also kept out.

There were a few adjustments to the rituals as well. Rather than battling for the batons, the men congregated at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple to pray for fertility, an end to the pandemic, and world peace.

How is the festival celebrated 

Normally, 1,000 men participate in the celebration.

The festival begins in mid-afternoon with an event for young boys. In the evening, the participants spend an hour or two sprinting about the temple grounds, cleaning themselves with freezing water, before rushing into the main temple building.

At 10:00pm, when the light goes out, a priest tosses 100 twig bundles and two lucky 20-centimeter-long sacred shingi batons into the crowd.

The men compete for one of the bundles or the two sticks.

The entire exercise lasts around 30 minutes

Whoever triumphs will enjoy a year of good fortune, according to legend. The entire exercise lasts around 30 minutes.

Initially, villagers competed for paper talismans handed out by a priest at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple. As more and more villagers wanted those lucky paper talismans, the ritual grew in size.

But they discovered that when they reached to grasp the paper, it ripped. Their clothes also got in the way, so they soon ditched them and swapped paper for wood.

Kokuseki Temple will replace the festival with prayer ceremonies

In order for such festivals to exist, some festivals are revising their regulations to reflect changing demographics and societal standards, such as allowing women to participate in traditionally male-only events.

Starting next year, Kokuseki Temple will replace the event with prayer services and other forms of spiritual exercise.

Hadaka Matsuri is one of the “naked festivals” celebrated around Japan. Another is held in Yotsukaido, Chiba prefecture, with men in loincloths fighting and carrying children through mud as an exorcism ritual.


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