Introducing the Yanaizu Naked Man Festival
On the evening of January 7th every year, crowds of men, dressed only in loincloths, get ready for Yanaizu’s Naked Man festival or Hadaka Mairi (Literally translates as ‘Naked Temple Visit’). They cleanse their bodies, and march through the streets of Yanaizu to Enzoji Temple, almost completely exposed to the elements.
This might not seem too difficult a festival to participate in, until you remember that Aizu’s climate is incredibly cold; often reaching -5 degrees Celsius on the day of the festival!
Once the men reach Enzoji Temple, they dash up the steps leading up rocky crags to the main temple building. They then scramble to be the first person to climb huge hemp ropes that hang from the wooden beams in the ceiling.
Men and children, old and young, race to reach the top of the ropes as soon as possible. Although participants must help children who are struggling, and not rush them, the grown men can be a little more ruthless to one another, often climbing over those who are too slow! Those who reach the top find a spot on the beams above and cheer on the others below.
This festival is held in order to receive happiness and to avoid illness in the coming year. Although it has been a local festival for many centuries in Yanaizu, in recent years, people from outside of Yanaizu Town have also begun to participate, and there are even a number of foreign participants every year.
Around 300 men attend annually, and nowadays pretty much anyone is allowed to participate (as long as they’re a man!). Women are, of course, allowed to watch from in or outside the temple, to cheer on their friends and family.
What does this festival represent?
This festival is all about the power and necessity of working together with fellow townspeople in order to achieve something that seems impossible (such as running basically naked through your hometown in the middle of winter before hauling your body up a rope).
Why the loincloths?
It is said that this festival makes participants recall being an infant.
These men came into the world naked and cold, and in challenging themselves to climb the large rope alone and with no help guaranteed, they are reminded to be humble and not forget their place in the world.
Although that being said, participants do have a lot of fun slapping each other on the bums before their march around the town!
So, what’s this festival all about?
I really love the story behind this festival.
A long, long time ago, the town of Yanaizu and the surrounding area was plagued with misfortune and sickness. A princess who prayed at Enzoji Temple was instructed during a vision to borrow a special jewel from the dragon god who lived at the bottom of the Tadami River. This special jewel had the power to fulfill any wish.
The princess borrowed the jewel from the dragon god, as instructed, and was able to bring the town prosperity and good health as a result.
However, many years later, on the evening of January 7th, the dragon god came back to Yanaizu, searching for his jewel and impatient for its return.
In order to preserve the prosperity of Yanaizu, the men of the town came together and decided to scare away the dragon.
They dressed in loin-clothes, disguised themselves in the main temple of Enzoji and waited for the dragon to approach.
When the time came, the group of men ran from their hiding places, making a huge amount of noise, screaming like wild things.
They were successful in their attempt to scare the dragon god away, and teach their ancestors the power and preciousness of unity and working with one another.
This festival is DEFINITELY on my list of festivals to visit during my time in Fukushima. I think it is so unique and interesting, and a great opportunity to get involved with the local people of Yanaizu.
This isn’t the only amazing thing about Enzoji Temple either! It also has an amazing legacy as the birthplace of the adorable Akabeko lucky red cow. Read all about it here.
January 7th (every year) 20:30-21:30
Free! (to participate and to view)
Who can participate?
Anyone! (as long as they are male).
Getting there by public transport:
Enzoji Temple is a 10-minute walk from Aizuyanaizu Station, on the JR Tadami Line. Take the train from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station to Aizuyanaizu Station.*
* Please note that the last train leaves Yanaizu Station well before the festival ends, so those wishing to visit Enzoji during festival time should come by car or arrange accommodation nearby.
Arriving by car:
10 minutes from the Aizu Bange exit off of the Ban’etsu Expressway
Other things to see in Yanaizu
Yanaizu Municipal Kiyoshi Saito Museum of Art
This artist from Yanaizu Town had domestic and international success with this amazing woodblock prints. He produced lots of beautiful, atmosphere images of his hometown and of places in Fukushima during his life time.
Roadside Station Aizu-Yanaizu
This rest stop is very close to Enzoji Temple by car, and is a good place to try Yanaizu’s most celebrated local food Awamanju steamed buns. You can also get cute Akabeko omiyage (souvenirs) here.
Wander the Streets of Yanaizu
Yanaizu is a very charming, small town, well worth exploring.
Tadami River View
Continue on the Tadami Line to Miyashita Station, from where you can visit the famous view-spot that looks over the Tadami River.
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