A centuries-old winter spectacle full of wild action, bare skin, and music.
The Saidaiji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri in Okayama is a raucous festival all about luck and happiness, in which a crowd of thousands of nearly naked men jostle for lucky objects tossed by priests in the cold of late February.
The festival evolved from a ritual started 500 years ago, when worshippers competed to catch paper talismans called Go-o thrown by a priest at Saidaiji Kannon-in Temple. These tokens marked the completion of New Year ascetic training by the priests. Those who snagged talismans had good things happen to them, so more people requested them year by year.
How to Get There
The festival is easily accessible from JR Okayama Station.
Take the Ako Line from Okayama Station to Saidaiji Station. Saidaiji Kannon-in is an easy 10-minute walk due south of the station.
Honoring the goddess of mercy
The object of worship at Saidaiji Kannon-in Temple is the thousand-armed Kannon. This temple marks the beginning of the Chugoku Pilgrimage, and the festival’s significance has more to do with this than the beauty of the temple itself.
Not quite naked
Up to 10,000 men take part in the festivities, dressed only in simple white loincloths and tabi socks. This is quite a feat in itself because the festival is held on the third Saturday of February. They spend an hour or two running around the temple grounds and through a fountain of near-freezing water, an act said to purify the body and soul.
Some go it alone or in small groups, but most are part of fairly large teams, many of which represent area businesses. The goal is to catch one of the two scented wooden sticks called shingi that are thrown into the crowd by a temple priest. Whoever catches one can expect good fortune for a year.
The festivities don’t just end there. There are actually 100 lucky items thrown into the crowd. While not as coveted as the sticks, which bring good luck to the receiver for the year, these items are all highly coveted, and the competition fierce.
Before the main attraction, there is a children’s version of the festival with participants representing their local community. Parents and their kids get ready for this unique rite of passage that also strengthens the bonds between residents. It’s a more subdued part of the festival, but visitors can see how this ritual gets passed down through the generations.
Make friends with the locals
During the festival, the nearby retro shopping street of Go Fuku Dori is lit up and full of good cheer. Local shop owners open their doors so that spectators and participants can warm up and chat with new acquaintances. There is a party atmosphere with people playing live music into the night.
Join in if you like
People from around the world have been part of the Saidaiji Eyo Naked Man Festival. You don’t have to be a local to participate, but you do have to register in advance with the temple and buy a loincloth.