Naked Festival: Thousands gather for the annual & # 39; Hadaka Matsuri & # 39;

Tokyo (CNN) – Thousands of people turned to the cold on Saturday to gather at the annual "Naked Festival" in Okayama County in the southern part of Japan's Honshu Island.

The event, called "Hadaka Matsuri" in Japanese, is a wild and tragic festival held every year on the third Saturday of February at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple, about a 30-minute train ride from Okayama.

But about 10,000 male participants are not as naked as the festival's name implies.

They sport a minimal amount of clothes. usually a Japanese loincloth called "fundoshi" and a pair of white socks called "tabi".

The festival, which celebrates the blessings of a rich harvest, prosperity and fertility, begins at approximately 3:20 pm local time with a special event for young boys – aimed at cultivating interest in younger generations.

"We hope they can keep the tradition alive in the future," Mieko Itano, a spokesman for Okayama's tourist office, told CNN Travel.

In the evening, the men spend an hour or two running around the temple area, preparing and cleansing themselves with ice cold water before filling themselves in the temple's main building.

When the lights go out at 10pm, a priest throws 100 bunches of twigs and two lucky 20cm-long sticks into the crowd from a four-meter window.

Then the turmoil begins.

About 10,000 men, full of sardines, push each other to get one of the bunches and / or two sticks. Whoever succeeds is guaranteed a year of good luck, according to legend.

Shingles are more sought after than the less-coveted branches that can be taken home. The whole event takes about 30 minutes and participants emerge with some cuts, bruises and articulated joints.

Visitors come from all over Japan and few from overseas to take part. Some only attend the event, but many attend as members of teams representing local businesses.
Men in fillets bathe in cold water to purify their souls as part of

Men in fillets bathe in cold water to purify their souls as part of the "Hadaka Matsuri" (Naked Festival) at Saidaiji Temple on February 15, 2020 in Okayama, Japan.

The Asahi Shimbun / Getty Images

Something for everyone

The festival evolved from a ritual that began 500 years ago during the Muromachi period (1338-1573), when villagers competed to grab paper bait given by a priest at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple.

More and more villagers wanted these lucky cards and the ritual grew. But they realized that when they went to grab the paper they had broken. Their clothes just went down the street, so they eventually took out with them and exchanged paper for wood, Itano said.

With its long heritage, the festival was also marked as an important intangible cultural asset in 2016. It is one of many "barefoot festivals" held in Japan, while another was held at Yotsukaido in Chiba Prefecture, with men wearing stripes as a method of exorcism.

There are many other festive events to see for those who don't feel like stripping in a loincloth in mid-winter, too.

Prior to Okayama's main event, there's an afternoon of traditional dances and a performance by a legendary female drummer. A fireworks event starts at 7 pm

Located in Gofuku-dori, a nearby shopping street, locals open their doors and welcome participants and spectators.

You don't have to be local to participate in the main "naked" event. You can either sign up in advance to buy your loincloth and tabi socks, or buy them on site if you want to join.

This year, the festival's organizers have taken extra precautions amid the coronavirus epidemic. Itano suggested that festival goers should not wear masks during the rough and tumble part of the main event. However, he added that hand sanitizers were placed at the entrance to the temple and around the festival.

Saidaiji Temple 3-8-8 Saidaiji-naka, Higashi-ku Okayama-shi, Okayama Prefecture 704-8116 Japan

Top photo: About 10,000 men in lanes try to grab a lucky wooden stick during the "naked festival" at Saidaiji Temple on February 15, 2020 in Okayama, Japan. Credit: Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images