Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Shinzan shrine naked pilgrimage festival

Hadaka Matsuri (naked festival) is a type of Japanese festival where participants wear a minimum amount of clothing, usually just a Japanese loincloth, and do vigorous things. Such clothing is considered to be above vulgar and on the level of holy Japanese shrine attire. Naked festivals are held in several places throughout Japan every year, usually in the summer or winter. The Hadaka Mairi (pilgrimage) Matsuri held in Yurihonjo city of Akita prefecture is a winter festival where naked men brave the cold and snow and proceed to a rather distant Shinzan shrine. The naked men carry offerings to the shrine by walking through the snow. There are different opinions and sayings regarding the origin of the Hadaka Mairi Matsuri. One of the stories is that shugensha monks protected the Shinzan shrine by walking naked as a form of ascetic training and practice. Shugendo is an ancient Japanese religion in which enlightenment or oneness with god is obtained through the study of the relationship between man and nature. It is centered on an ascetic, mountain-dwelling lifestyle and incorporates teachings from koshinto, buddhism, and other eastern philosophies including folk animism. Monks following shugendo religion are known as shugensha. The monks prayed for the toughness of body, the safety of homes, the happiness of the families, and bumper crops in the fields. Every year the monks went to the shrine to display in front of the god the results of their training, practice, and the growth of their mind and body.
Around the Shinzan shrine area, every year people volunteer and take turn to be the caretaker of the festival. About 300 young men wearing hachimaki (bandana), fundoshi (traditional Japanese male loincloth), tabi (traditional Japanese socks), and waraji (traditional Japanese straw rope sandal) gather at the house of the caretaker at the crack of dawn on the festival day and then walk up to the Shinzan shrine in batches of about 20-30 men, where each batch represents a particular locality of the nearby region. In the bitter cold dawn of the festival day, these young men first undergo a ritual purification by pouring cold well water on their body and then climb up to the Shinzan shrine by blowing conch shells and chanting (shouting) the words ‘joyassha’ ‘joyassha’. The shouts and chants of ‘joyassha’ are meant to repel the devil on the way to the shrine. It is believed that the naked men purify their body and mind by chanting this word repeatedly. The young men walk a distance of about two kilometers and climb the 103 steps to the shrine that is located at a mountain-top. They carry giant mochi (rice-cake), large fishes, sake (liquor) barrel, and many other offerings to the god. These items are tied with ropes and slung beneath stout bamboo poles. Such poles are carried by the naked men on their shoulders. On their way to the shrine, the men visit three torii gates (traditional Japanese gates of shrines). In front of each torii gate, the men sing a prayer song for that particular torii. Finally after reaching the shrine, they go round the shrine three times and sing in front of the god ‘mede donayo, mede donayo, kono sonaye monowayo, kokononayo, yashiro niyo, oya, osame okunoyo’, which basically means ‘we will devote and offer these food items to you’. They also pray for the toughness of the body, safety and happiness of the families, and good crops in the fields. After that the naked men throw bit-sized mochi and oranges at the audience and visitors, and wish them a year of happiness and good luck.
Although it had been snowing heavily in the month of January, it was a clear day on the 18th of January, the Matsuri day. Hubby and me skipped attending the ceremony where the naked young men underwent purification by pouring well water on themselves. This is because the ceremony was held very early in the morning. We left our home at about 8.45 am and walked up to the shrine located at the mountain-top. It was very cold and the temperature was about -1 degree centigrade. Icicles had formed on some rooftops. There was snow everywhere on our way to the shrine. However, the major road leading to the shrine was cleared of snow for the festival.

Icicles on a roof-top

Snow everywhere

After walking for about 700 meters, we saw a group of naked young men chanting ‘joyassha’ and walking towards the shrine.

A group of naked young men walking towards the shrine

Hubby and me walked for another 30 minutes and reached the stairway leading up to the shrine. There were a lot of steps and I was tired after reaching about half way up the stairs.

Hubby and me climbed a lot of steps. The steps were very slippery.

Still many more steps to climb to reach up to the torii gate

After a bit of rest, we managed to reach up to one of the torii gate. The view from that height of the mountain was very beautiful. Many people took rest here. There were a few stalls selling hot sake to keep the body warm in the bitter cold. Here we saw another group of naked young men going up to the shrine. All the young men were full of energy, enthusiasm, and vigor. Hubby took a video of the men walking and chanting ‘joyassha’ ‘joyassha’. The men carried fishes, mochi, and sake on their shoulders.
A beautiful view of Yurihonjo city from the mountain

Young men blowing a conch shell and carrying food items on their shoulders up to the shrine

Young men carrying food items on their shoulders

Young men taking rest on their way to the shrine

Video of naked young men chanting 'joyassha' while walking towards the shrine

After enjoying the view and the festivities for 10 minutes, we climbed further up the stairway and reached another torii gate.
Me in front of another torii gate

The shrine was on the other side of the torii gate. There were many people around the shrine.

Shinzan shrine

A group of naked young men prayed inside the shrine while another group of naked men went round the shrine three times, sang a devotional song, and then waited for their turn to enter the shrine.

A group of young men prayed inside the shrine

Another group of young men waiting for their turn to enter the shrine and pray

The group praying inside the shrine came out after about five minutes and threw bit-sized mochi and oranges at all the audience. One of the mochi hit me on the forehead!

Naked young men coming out of the shrine

After some time, the group of young men who were waiting outside the shrine, started singing and chanting devotional songs. Then they made preparations to enter the shrine and pray to the god.

Group of waiting naked young men singing and preparing to enter the shrine

We enjoyed the festival mood for some time.

Me in front of the shrine

Hubby in front of the shrine

After about 20 minutes of enjoying the festivities, we left the shrine and started back on our way down the stairs. Just outside the torii gate near the shrine, we saw yet another group of naked young men waiting on the steps for their turn to pray inside the shrine. I saw a giant mochi, large fish, sake barrel, and the naked young men from a very close range.

One group of naked young men waiting on the steps outside the torii gate near the shrine

Giant Mochi as an offering to the god

A large fish as an offering to the god

Close up view of the large fish

Sake barrel as an offering to the god

After going down half the steps, we saw one more group of naked young men waiting for their turn to go up to the shrine. I saw that a few of the young men drank sake directly from a very big bottle! Everyone was in a gay and festive mood.

Yet another group of naked young men waiting for their turn to enter the shrine

The young men drank sake directly from a big sake bottle

A large fish as an offering to the god

Every year on the same day as the Hadaka Mairi Matsuri, a traditional market called Ishiwaki Kuranoichi is held in Yurihonjo. The traditional market sells items like vegetables, candies, pickles, food materials, and sake liquors. Ishiwaki area of Yurihonjo was a major strategic transit base for commerce during the reign of old feudal Kameda clan in the Edo period. We saw that the warehouse was crowded with many people to buy regional famous confectionaries and specialties. On this day, people were allowed to observe the traditional sake-making process in the liquor warehouse. Many people tasted and bought various kinds of sake. We skipped visiting the market as the place was very much crowded with people. We took the photo of the place from outside.

Ishiwaki Kuranoichi market

Sake liquor warehouse

Entrance of the sake warehouse

Hubby was very happy and relaxed in the cool weather. I took a photo of him standing at a bridge above the Koyoshigawa river. We reached home at about 2 pm.

Relaxed hubby

We enjoyed the Shinzan shrine Hadaka Mairi Matsuri very much.


its from me said...

a great narration. the photos made the reading more interesting. you seem to be making the best use of your time. Thanks for posting.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks 'its from me' for your comment. I am enjoying writing about life in Japan.

Kazuo Nagata said...

It was very cold and I saw several naked young men shiver. The matsuri was very enjoyable.

google said...


amiko said...

Hello. Your blog is very interesting. You seem to be having lots of great time in Akita. I have lived almost all my life in Tokyo and Kanto region, so I would love to visit other wonderful places in Japan. :)

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Hubby dear (Kazuo), even I saw several of the naked young men shivering! We both had a nice time walking in such a cold weather. How many times did I fall on those slippery steps? ;)

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks, google for your comment. The festival was really nice.

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Thanks amiko for your nice comment. Yeah, I am really enjoying living in Akita, though during winter it is really cold. I also lived for more than ten years in Tokyo and Kanto area prior to moving to Akita. Kanto area is really wonderful. Now I have come to appreciate the serene natural beauty of Akita prefecture. Please do visit Akita.