Okayama’s Saidaiji Eyo Festival, also dubbed the “Naked Festival,” will be held on February 20 this year, 2021.

Known as one of “The Three Strangest Festivals of Japan,” it involves crowds of men in mawashi loincloth who enter a contest to scramble and fight for the shingi (literally, “treasured tree”) to become the “lucky man.”

Source: Sankei Shinbun/Japan Forward

The festival had been facing uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, and many were anxious about the possible loss of a tradition that had continued for over 500 years. After careful deliberation, the organizers decided to limit the number of festival-goers and replace the contest with a lucky draw.

Saidaiji Kannonin Temple

Source: Sankei Shinbun/Japan Forward

One Man per Masu

“5,000 people go on this floor alone every year,” explained Priest Hiroya Tsuboi, 44, pointing to a room approximately fifteen meters in length and nine meters in width. The venue of the naked festival is in the main hall of Saidaiji Kannonin Temple. The highlight of the festival is its peculiar energy generated by the multitudes of men in loincloths competing for good fortune talismans in such close contact, described as “one man per masu (approximately 110 square inches).”

The history of the naked festival dates back to the Muromachi period (about the mid-1330s to mid-1570s). On the Lunar New Year, the temple would hold a Buddhist service called “shuseikai” to pray for peace and a good harvest. On the last day, talismans were handed only to the elders.

However, worshippers began to fight for these talismans to gain good fortune. So in 1510, they wrapped the talismans around a piece of wood to prevent tearing, then dropped them from the window of the main hall to the people. Eventually, the worshippers started wearing loincloths for better mobility, and the tradition of competing for the “treasured tree” began.

By - grape Japan editorial staff.