For most of the year southern Japan’s Okayama City is a tranquil midsized town that offers a typical Japanese experience tourists will not find in Tokyo or Kyoto. But for one weekend every February the city transforms into a testosterone-charged den of mayhem and festivity. Brave men from near and far congregate at the Saidaiji Kan'nonin Temple for the internationally renowned Hadaka Matsuri—more commonly known as the Naked Man Festival.
The Naked Man Festival, which dates back to the sixteenth century, features nearly 10,000 near-naked men vying for a pair of sacred sticks thrown by a priest into the Saki-charged mob. Male bonding takes on a new meaning as the loincloth-clad participants struggle to gain the sacred sticks, and the lucky winner is blessed with a year of happiness. The remaining combatants have the opportunity to earn a smattering of also-ran items, which also bestow luck upon their champion.
For decades the Naked Man Festival has been a popular tourist event, inviting travelers to strip down and shout “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!” with the unruly crowd approaching the temple. Near-freezing temperatures in the dead of night assure that only the toughest competitors can withstand the challenge. An entire day of fun precedes the Hadaka Matsuri midnight climax, when the lights are extinguished and the sacred sticks are thrown into the melee. Participants fret not if they are not among the lucky winners of the sacred talismans—every witness of this ancient and bizarre spectacle is a winner in the end.
The lunar calendar used to determine the Naked Man Festival’s timing, but today the date is fixed on the third Saturday of February due to increased tourist interest. Make sure to arrive early to experience the full day of events that lead up to the shivery, scantily-clad climax. Okayama can be reached by direct flights from several cities, including Tokyo, Okinawa, Seoul, Hong Kong, Beijing and Guam. It can also be reached by train or bus from Tokyo.
Odds n' Ends
While in Okayama, don’t miss the chance to take a stroll through the beautiful Korakuen Gardens. Tour the Okayama Castle, ominously painted black, and stop in the Oriental Museum to learn about the regions art and trade history. Gamers won’t want to miss the Sega Joyopolis arcade, while those seeking relaxation should visit the Yuba Onsen—a genuine hot spring that offers a variety of baths. Okayama is one of few cities in Japan with a tram system, so getting around town is a breeze.
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