There is a lot that happens in the Naked Man Festival, so let’s dive right into it!
FESTIVAL TIME & HOLY WATER:
After a pleasant streaking through the neighborhood, our next job is to join the festival ceremony itself. This entails linking up in a line of four and running in circles around Saidaiji Temple. Our entire group of 100 + foreigners were very proud to yashoi our way into the arena like viewing area for everyone to see. That was, until we reached the holy water. This was waist deep FREEZING cold “cleansed” water that we had to run through each and every lap.
This was probably my favorite time of the event – not the water – but the running part. While we were running, all the other teams were doing so as well and we would all share high fives and “ganbatte” with one another. Even observers and photographers on the sideline would rush out to get high fives from us. It was an awesome experience.
PIVOT, PIVOT, PIVOT:
Once the parades have stopped, it is time for everybody to climb the temple steps to the main platform. This is where we would spend the next half hour jockeying for positions closer to where we felt the priests may throw the incense. I was warned ahead of time, but this is where it gets really really dangerous. There is so much friction and pushing and shoving here that if you don’t keep your arms up in the air they may get snapped backwards. Furthermore, people frequently get shoved off the massive stairs and break bones and get seriously injured. It is not a safe place. You have to always be on your guard. I mean this is 9000 or so men pushing with all their force to get into a 20 square meter platform.One of the priests found a way to amuse himself by throwing frigid water on us every now and then…how kind.
Eventually, the bells rang and the event started. How do you show this? By turning off all the lights, switching on a strobe light to knockout any of the epileptics in the crowd and chuck the incense in the confusion. That’s how the Japanese throw their raves apparently.GTFO:
At this point, it is an all out brawl for the sticks. You have people scratching you, kidney punching you, tripping you and feeling up every possible part of your body. So, your average Saturday night.Every seen that meme about Helm’s Deep in Lord Of the Rings, The Two Towers….well that is the exact same feeling you get.By now you can start identifying teams and groups working together. It just so happens that there are actually groups that train throughout the year for this one event. Oh and did I mention the Yakuza (Japanese Organized Crime), as well. Yep, rumor has it they “help” organize the event. They aren’t shy about their presence either; they’re the only ones allowed to wear different colored Fundoshi. Check out this picture by my friend Joel. As you can see, the fundoshi are pitch black. Let me tell you, looking up from a pit you were just fighting in to see 5 Yakuza just staring straight at you really gives you some perspective.
Eventually, individual pits form throughout the arena as people start moving to the exit gate. You only have an hour to find a stick or leave. This is where you start seeing cherry pickers lining up by the exit gate to prey on people about to leave. It is all pretty ruthless.
As you can imagine, it seems almost impossible to successfully get out of this. Yet, despite the pits, the yakuza, and the freezing cold, our foreigner team managed to escape with 3 bundles of incense. That’s right! THREE!!!
Here are some tips on how you can do it:
1. Bottoms up:
First things first, if you find yourself with an incense stick DO NOT keep it in plain sight. Shove that thing DEEP DOWN into your fundoshi where the sun doesn’t shine. Make sure nobody will ever find it! Trust me, it works and is the only way!
2. Fake an injury:
One of the best ways to get out is to fake an injury. A few of our guys used this tactic to escape with one of the incense. Basically, one guy fell down and faked a hurt ankle. Two others grabbed him by his arms and helped him down the stairs and away from everyone. As long as you look more concerned with getting to safety and helping your friend than with leaving the arena, nobody will bother you :).
Another big tip is to not run to the exit. If you have a stick, get out of the main pit and walk to the outlier. Just look around, make some comments about how cold it is, and rub yourself down. PRETEND that you are just trying to get out of the center carnage. Sooner or later, people will loose interest in you.
Overall, this is going to be rough. At one point I was chocked, had my hair pulled, received a few kidney punches, and kicks while trying to get one of the bundles. Just bare your teeth and fight back! Everyone’s doing it :).
If it helps a little, check out my youtube video below for a real peak into how crazy this festival can get. Remember, it’s all about having fun.