In A First, Women Partake In Japan's 1,250-Year-Old 'Naked Man' Fest

In the Hadaka Matsuri festival's 1,250-year history, no woman has been able to participate; until this year. The 'naked man' festival has allowed women to be a part of festivities but on certain conditions.

Tanya Savkoor
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Image: Reuters

For the first time in its 1,250-year history, women participated in the Hadaka Matsuri, also known as the 'naked man' festival of Japan on February 22. Despite the name, the women remained fully clothed in 'happi coats', which is traditional festive attire. According to the South China Morning Post, seven groups of women and around 10,000 local men, only donning loincloths around their waist, took part in the festival. Reportedly, this was the last time the Hadaka Matsuri was celebrated, as organising the event has been harsh on the ageing population.


Mitsugu Katayama, an official of the organising committee, told the South China Morning Post that traditionally, there was no restriction on women's participation but they chose to stay out of the festivities. However, women enjoyed the joyous mood of this Hadaka Matsuri in its final leg.

Women Partake In Japan's 'Naked Man' Festival

As Japan grapples with a falling birthrate, an ageing population, and a lack of young participants, other temples across the country are adapting their traditions to ensure continuity. Some festivals are modifying rules to align with changing demographics and social norms, allowing for inclusivity. 

Around 40 women were expected to be allowed to partake in the celebrations this year in only certain rituals, the South China Morning Post reported. They participated in the 'naoizasa' ritual, which required them to carry bamboo grass wrapped in cloth into the shrine grounds.

"I heard that women could participate so I definitely wanted to take part to help bring excitement to this town and festival," one of the participants, Emi Tachibana, a 59-year-old civil servant told the media. Naruhito Tsunoda, a priest at the shrine, clarified there had never been a ban on women participating, and some had even made small offerings as individuals before. However, with changing mindsets women showed zeal to participate this year.

What is Hadaka Matsuri?


The Hadaka Matsuri sees thousands of men clad in minimal clothing—just a loincloth called 'fundoshi' around the waist and a pair of white socks—come together to celebrate at the shrine. As a part of the rituals, the men spend hours running around temple grounds and "purifying" themselves with frigid water before heading towards the main temple.

The priest of the temple throws 100 twigs, which include two lucky sticks, which the participants fight to fetch. The men who find the two sticks are called'shin-otoko', or chosen ones, and are considered to bring good luck to those they come into contact with. The other participants attempt to touch the shin-otokos so that the luck can be shared with them too. 

Rich Tradition Fades Away

The Sominsai festival, renowned as one of Japan's quirkiest traditions, has fallen victim to the harsh realities of the country's ageing population crisis. The burden of organizing an event of such scale has proven overwhelming for the local faithful, struggling behind the scenes to balance the excitement visible to the crowd with the rituals and exhaustive preparations.

Daigo Fujinami, a resident monk of the Kokuseki Temple dating back to 729, expressed the challenges: "You can see what happened today—so many people are here, and it's all exciting. But behind the scenes, there are many rituals and so much work that has to be done. I cannot be blind to the difficult reality."

Japan's Ageing Quandary

Japan's society has aged at an accelerated pace compared to most other nations, resulting in the closure of numerous schools, shops, and services, particularly in small and rural communities. The Sominsai festival, once spanning from the seventh day of the Lunar New Year through the following morning, has been forced to adapt during the COVID pandemic. It underwent a scaled-down version involving prayer ceremonies and smaller rituals.

While some temples across Japan continue hosting similar festivals, adapting to changing demographics and social norms becomes imperative for their survival. Kokuseki Temple, acknowledging the challenges posed by a falling birthrate, an ageing population, and a dearth of young participants, plans to replace the festival with prayer ceremonies and alternative spiritual practices starting next year.

Japan exclusion of women naked man festival