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The small town of Konomiya, part of Inazawa city, just outside Nagoya witnesses one of Japan’s most famous hadaka matsuri or naked festivals.
The raucous festival dates back to 767 when the local governor of Owari (present-day Aichi Prefecture) instigated the festival in an attempt to ward off a plague epidemic sweeping the country.
The festival has a number of stages.
On the second day of the lunar new year a post marked with the words “naoi shinji” is set up outside Konomiya Shrine.
An hour later at 10am a group of applicants arrive in the hope of being chosen as that year’s shin-otoko or (“god-man”). To be selected as shin-otoko is considered a great honor, though a dubious one in most people’s eyes in view of what is to follow.
A huge 4-ton rice-cake (mochi) is prepared and is presented to the shin-otoko on the eve of the main festival. For three days prior to the start of the matsuri the shin-otoko is kept alone, enclosed in a small hall in Konomiya Shrine. He is fed only rice-gruel and water and has all his body hair shaved off as part of the purification rite.
The festival begins in mid-afternoon on the 13th day of the lunar new year when thousands of men dressed only in loincloths carry a bamboo pole covered with pieces of paper carrying the excuses of people who couldn’t make it to the festival that year.
When the shin-otoko appears from the shrine the assembled men – many of them aged 23 or 42 (ages considered unlucky or yakudoshi) – converge on the shin-otoko in an effort to touch him and thus pass on their bad luck and so rid themselves of evil.
The shin-otoko’s guards, who attempt to stop him getting killed in the crush, throw cold water on the crowds to help cool things down. The event can be dangerous and people have suffered injuries in the past.
At 3am the next morning the shin-otoko carrying a “mud cake” on his back – symbolizing bad luck and calamity is chased away from the shrine and the mud cake is buried by the shrine priests. This part of the festival is known as yonaoi shinji.
Later that morning the large rice cake presented earlier is cut up and distributed to worshippers. Eating the rice cake is supposed to ward off illness and misfortune.
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