Saidaiji Eyo (Hadaka Matsuri), Okayama
The Saidaiji Eyo is the largest, most famous, and possibly original hadaka matsuri (Naked Man Festival) in Japan! It's held on the third Saturday in February, the coldest month of the year! It began over 500 years ago at Saidaiji Temple around 1504. Originally people gathered at the temple and the priests threw amulets. Today, they throw two 'shingi' (sacred wooden sticks) into a crowd.
The festivities begin at 3:30pm when elementary school boys have their own small "Naked Festival" at the temple. They wear only fundoshi (loincloths) like the men and try to catch their own shingi, although much more are thrown for them.
Although the main event is for men only, women have their part as well. Around 5:40 women have taiko drum performances and dance, adding to the drama of the upcoming main event!
Then from 7 to 7:30 there are fireworks. Towards the end of the fireworks the men begin making their way to the temple. They enter in groups and first must go into the temple's holy spring and then march around the temple saying "Wasshoi! Wasshoi!" There are over 9000 participants, so it takes a long time for them all to come in. The atmosphere is very high energy and exciting!
The men gather at the temple and as time draws closer to 10, you will see them pushing and trying fiercely to position themselves in a place where they feel they can get the shingi. Many men are pushed down the temple stairs and get injured but that's all part of the event!
At 10pm they turn out all the lights and throw 2 shingi and the 9000 men all fight to be one of the two that gets them! Only the temple lights are turned back on. Most come in groups and try to help one another, because it's very easy to lose it with so many people trying to take it from one another. The men that get the shingi are said to be granted luck for the entire year!
To watch the event, there are three areas. The bleachers are the best place. They cost 5000 yen but you are guaranteed your seat and it offers the best view. If you want these seats, you need to reserve them in advance. The other two areas cost only 1000 yen and 500 yen and do not require any reservations. Men may actually participate in the event.
There are foodstands outside the temple where you can buy food throughout the day. They also add to the festive atmosphre. It's well worth it to come. It's so different from other festivals and amazing to see so many participants. The excitement of the festival builds upon itself as the day goes on, so it's never boring! It was an unforgettable experience!