Japan naked festival: Women join Hadaka Matsuri for first time

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For the first time in its 1,250-year history, the Hadaka Matsuri, or the Naked Festival, at the Konomiya Shrine in central Japan has welcomed women to participate in its ritual of driving away evil spirits and praying for happiness. 

The festival, which is held every year on February 22, involves thousands of nearly-naked men wearing only loincloths and carrying bamboo offerings, who rush to the shrine and try to touch the Shin Otoko, or the male deity, a man chosen by the shrine. According to the tradition, touching him is believed to bring good luck and ward off misfortune. 

This year, however, a group of about 40 women from the local community joined the festival, wearing long purple robes and white shorts, and carrying their own bamboo offerings. They did not take part in the scramble with the men, but instead formed a separate procession to the shrine, where they prayed and received blessings from the priests. 

The women, who ranged in age from 20s to 70s, said they wanted to break the gender barrier and keep the tradition alive, as Japan faces a rapidly ageing population and a declining birth rate. Some of them also said they hoped to inspire other women to join the festival in the future. 

The decision to allow women to participate was made by the shrine’s chief priest, Naruhito Tsunoda, who said he wanted the festival to be fun and inclusive for everyone. He said he believed that God would be happy with the change, as long as the participants were sincere and respectful. 

However, not everyone in the community was supportive of the women’s involvement. Some voiced their concerns that the festival was a men-only event, and that the women’s presence would ruin the seriousness and sanctity of the ritual. Some also argued that the festival was meant to celebrate masculinity and fertility, and that women had no place in it. 

The women, however, said they were not deterred by the criticism, and that they were proud to be part of the festival’s history. They said they felt a sense of responsibility and gratitude, and that they hoped to pass on the tradition to the next generation. 

The Hadaka Matsuri is one of the many naked festivals that are held across Japan, usually in winter or early spring, to mark the end of the cold season and the arrival of the new year. They are also seen as a way of purifying the body and soul, and of expressing gratitude and devotion to the gods. 

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