The Naked Men of Yanaizu
As the clock strikes 8:30 in the north-central
Aizu town of Yanaizu, the stillness of the snowy winter's night
is pierced by the muffled ring of a temple bell. Spectators huddle
in the cold, as faintly heard shouts from in the distance break
the silence. A few minutes pass, and as the voices get closer, the
rhythmical chant of "Wasshoi wasshoi !" becomes distinguishable.Finally,
the men come into view, wearing nothing but shitaobi (loincloths),their
skin pink from the cold and liberal amounts of sake, panting heavily
as they jog in unison up the steep stone steps leading to the temple.
The night has just begun for participants in the Yanaizu Hadaka
Mairi(Naked Festival). The festival is held at one of the coldest
times of year,occurring annually on the evening of January 7th,
and tests the endurance of its two hundred-odd participants to the
maximum. The 113 snow-covered stone steps negotiated by the hoardes
of fundoshi-clad men lead to Fukuman Kokuzoson Enzoji Temple,
the tourist symbol of the town. The temple is the centre of proceedings,
and its bell serves as the signal for the event to begin.
On reaching the top of the steps, the men, without pausing for breath,head
towards the suiden - the small trough found at all temples which
holds purified water - and begin dousing themselves and each other
with the ice cold water. Many of the participants have written their
wishes on their arms and backs, much of it making for interesting
reading as they pass by. While some simply hope to pass their school
and university exams, others were more inventive, with wishes as
varied as victory for the Tokyo Giants baseball team this season,
continued good business for Yamato soba, and success in collecting
girlfriends over the coming year.
Having covered themselves with water, the participants then head
for the Kikkodo, the temple's main building. Jostling each other
and the hundreds of cheering onlookers in order to get in first,
one by one they fling themselves at the uchizuna, a solitary
rope hanging down from the roof of the building, usually used to
sound a gong when praying.
Mustering up all their strength,the men climb up to the rafters,
where they wait and give vocal encouragement to those that follow.
Making it to the gong at the top of the slippery five metre rope
is the participants' aim, as it is said that those who successfully
manage the feat will enjoy good fortune, happiness and good health
in the coming year.
The Hadaka Mairi has its origins in an ancient folk legend, in which
the Yanaizu townsfolk had to unite to drive away the Dragon God,
who lived in the Tadami River, and who had entered the town in order
to steal the treasure of Enzoji Temple. Famous throughout Japan,
this quirky festival has been an annual tradition for more than
a thousand years, drawing both participants and spectators who want
to be a part of the fun from all over the prefecture. And despite
the sub zero temperatures, the red hot atmosphere of the Hadaka
Mairi Festival never fails to please the crowds.