Nakada Hadaka Matsuri
Photography by Thaddeus Pope
Held in thousands of locations across the length and breadth of the Japanese archipelago, traditional festivals, known as matsuri, perhaps best exemplify a more paradoxical side of Japan: known for their reserve and shyness, the Japanese take on a quite different demeanour when they participate in a matsuri. With shouting, showing off and often quite inebriated participants, matsuri are joyous events that shatter the stereotype of “typical Japanese” behaviour.
In Japan, the largest festivals involve the participation of thousands of people, with tens of thousands more watching from the sidelines. These festivals often require entire sections of the city to be closed down and are broadcast on national television to an audience of millions. By contrast, smaller festivals are held primarily for the benefit of local populations, with perhaps 150 to 200 people in attendance, and are barely publicised. Outside of their immediate region, these festivals may be virtually unknown.
Every festival, whether large or small, well-known or obscure, has its own characteristics. One particularly noteworthy kind of festival is the hadaka matsuri, or “naked festival”, a type of Shinto event in which participants typically wear just a Japanese loincloth called a fundoshi. The hadaka matsuri is a purification ritual designed to drive away bad luck, evil spirits and calamities. Because nakedness is considered the purest form – the closest state a person can be to birth – it is necessary for a ritual purification ceremony.