(CNN) — This specific time a year ago, thousands gathered for Japan’s annual Hadaka Matsuri — also popularly known as the “Naked Festival”– in Okayama prefecture within the southern part of Honshu island.
In today’s climate of social distancing, the video highlights coming from last year’s event (see above) are a surreal reminder of how much has changed since then.
Also known as Saidaiji Eyo, Hadaka Matsuri takes place on the third Saturday of February at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple, about a 30-minute train ride coming from Okayama city. along with This specific year was no exception.
although the Covid-19 pandemic has cast its long shadow over 2021 proceedings, forcing organizers to pare things down significantly.
A battle between 10,000 men
Hadaka Matsuri celebrates the blessings of a bountiful harvest, prosperity along with fertility.
In normal times, This specific starts mid-afternoon with an event for young boys — aimed at fostering interest in younger generations. within the evening, the 10,000 or so male participants spend an hour or two running around the temple grounds in preparation along with purify themselves with freezing cold water, before cramming themselves into the main temple building.
They aren’t as naked as the festival’s name suggests. They sport a minimal amount of clothing; usually a Japanese loincloth called a “fundoshi” along that has a pair of white socks called “tabi.”
In This specific picture taken on February 18, 2017, worshippers wait for the priest to throw the sacred batons during the annual Hadaka Matsuri at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/AFP via Getty Images
When the lights go out at 10 p.m., a priest throws 100 bundles of twigs along with two lucky 20-centimeter-long sacred shingi batons into the crowd coming from a window four meters above.
This specific’s a scene of which would likely be unthinkable today. The men, packed in like sardines, jostle with each different to get hold of one of the bundles along with/or the two sticks. Whoever succeeds can be guaranteed a year of Great fortune, according to legend. (The shingi are more sought after than the less-coveted twigs, which can be taken home.)
The whole event lasts around 30 minutes along with participants emerge that has a few cuts, bruises along with sprained joints.
Visitors normally come coming from all across Japan along that has a few coming from abroad to take part.
although event organizers confirmed to CNN Travel of which This specific year’s Hadaka Matsuri event, which took place on February 20, was limited to only a select, socially distanced group of 100 or so men who had caught the shingi in past years, along with was closed to spectators.
Rather than battle for the batons, the men gathered at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple to pray for fertility, an end to the pandemic along with world peace, while observing safety measures including social distancing.
Uninterrupted for 500 years
As part of the Naked Festival, participants purify themselves with freezing cold water before entering the main temple.
Trevor Williams/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Why not just cancel the entire event?
In a statement highlighting their reasons for going ahead that has a severely downsized edition of the festival, organizers noted of which This specific’s has continued uninterrupted for over 500 years.
“In discussion with the chief priest along with committee members, we have reached the conclusion of which we need to pray (for) Eyo at This specific point,” said Saijaiji Eyo chairman Minoru Omori. Eyo relates to a term called “ichiyo-raifuku,” which means “to withstand the harsh, cold winter along with reach the warmth of spring.”
“In different words, we pray for Great luck after continuous bad things,” said Omori.
The Naked Festival evolved coming from a ritual of which started out 500 years ago during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573), when villagers competed to grab paper talismans, which were given out by a priest at the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple.
More along with more villagers wanted those lucky paper talismans along with the ritual grew in size. although they realized of which when they went to grab the paper This specific ripped. Their clothes just got within the way too, so they eventually did away with them along with exchanged paper for wood, explained Mieko Itano, a spokeswoman coming from the Okayama tourism board, in a 2020 interview with CNN Travel.
With its long heritage, the festival was also designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset in 2016. This specific’s one of several “naked festivals” held across Japan, with another held at Yotsukaido in Chiba prefecture, featuring men in loincloths fighting along with carrying kids through mud as a method of exorcism.
Japan along with Covid-19
Daily Covid-19 cases have been in decline in recent weeks in Japan, though Tokyo can be among several prefectures under a state of emergency to control the virus. The country has reported more than 424,000 Covid-19 cases along with more than 7,000 deaths.
The pandemic forced organizers to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics last year, with the games set to begin on July 23, 2021.