Every year in February, in the old Owari Okunitama Jinja Shrine (尾張大国霊神社), also called Konomiya Jinja Shrine (国府宮神社), one of the most unique and “lucky” festivals in all of Japan is celebrated. This festival is called Konomiya Hadaka Matsuri (国府宮はだか祭り) or Konomiya Naked Festival. With more than 1,200 years, the Konomiya Hadaka Matsuri is one of the oldest festivals in all Japan. And along with Saidaiji Hadaka Matsuri (Okayama Pref.) and Tamaseseri Festival at Hakozaki Shrine (Fukuoka Pref.), is regarded as one of the three most popular naked festivals.
Thousands of local people and travelers make their pilgrimage to the Owari Okunitama Jinja Shrine (尾張大国霊神社) in Inazawa City (Aichi ) to get rid of bad luck and get a piece of good luck.
The Hadaka Matsuri (its official name is Naoi Shinji) is a Shinto ritual dating back to 767 AD, in the Nara Period.
It all began when the regent governor, Taishi Shōtoku (聖徳太子) ordered the priests of the Kokubun-ji shrines (国分寺) to perform cleansing ceremonies to rid the Owari region (now the prefecture of Aichi) of plagues and calamities.
The villagers of Konomiya took this order as reference to establish their own rite. In its beginnings this rite was quite bizarre. The villagers of Konomiya captured and forced a man from outside the village to be the Shin-Otoko 紳男. This man was offered as a human sacrifice (人身御供) to the sanctuary of Owari Shosha (the actually Konomiya Shrine).
Due to the brutality of the rite and the disturbances that took place in it, the festival was declared illegal by the Owari Clan Head, Tokugawa Munekatsu in 1744. However, in the early Meiji period it was again restored, but modifying the process of the rite making it “something more civilized”.
Nowadays, the Shin-Otoko (紳男) or Naoi-Nin (儺負人) is chosen by lot among those who volunteer to play this role. During the 3 days before to the festival, the Shin-Otoko remains in solitude and prayer. Its diet is based only on white rice, pickles and tea.
On the day of the event, the Shin-Otoko shaves all body hair. From the head to the feet, including the eyebrows, as a measure of prevention against future accidents, such as hair pulling, etc.
The “unlucky men”
The “unlucky men” participating in the Hadaka Matsuri are strictly men, who mostly comprise the ages of 25 or 42, considered unlucky ages for men (Yakudoshi 厄年).
These participants are dressed in a white cotton loincloth called fundoshi (褌, ふんどし) and white socks called tabi (足袋). These men share one same objective: to get rid of bad luck by touching the Shin-Otoko. To fight against the freezing February, they drink a good amount of alcohol during all the event.
How is the day of the event
The day of the event, the Konomiya Jinja Shrine is filled with people from early morning hours. Many people come here to receive prayers to avoid evil, or receive a piece of a kind of amulet called Naoi-Gire. The first to arrive are women and the elderly people. Since they can not participate, they go to the temple where the Shin-Otoko receives them to bless them and receive their evils.
Before the “unlucky men” offerings parade, a 4-ton Okagami Mochi (大鏡餅) is brought to the temple by several men.
Around 15:00, with the shouting: Wasshoi! Wasshoi! Groups of “unlucky men” advance through the streets of the city carrying with them an offering called Naoi-Zasa (なおい笹). This offering consists of a large trunk or several large and elongated bamboo trunks, in which they tie pieces of colored cloth strip (Naoi-Gire / なおい布) in which they write their age and wishes for the new year. It is said that if you receive one of these cloth strips it will bring you good luck. On the way to the shrine, they swing, spin and climb the Naoi-Zasa. On the way to the shrine, they swing, spin and climb the Naoi-Zasa.
Meanwhile, in the sanctuary, the Shin-Otoko protectors (former Shin-Otoko of other pasts years) gather to discuss the final details for the rescue of the Shin-Otoko.
After all the groups of “unlucky men” have given their offerings to the temple, the last ones to arrive are the patrol of men “water throwers” called Tewo Ketai (手桶隊).
Everyone waits for the appearance of the Shin-Otoko. Nobody knows exactly when he will appear, but it’s usually between 16:30 and 17:00.
The climax of the event comes when the Shin-Otoko appears completely naked in the vicinity of the sanctuary. He is guarded by ex-Shin-Otokos. At that moment he is persecuted and surrounded by the mass of “unlucky men” who begin to push each other to reach the Shin-Otoko and touch him to pass his own bad luck. The Shin-Otoko is hit, slapped, kicked and crushed. At the same time, the Shin-Otoko objective is to reach the interior of the sanctuary.
The Tewo Ketai throw buckets of cold water to disperse the “unlucky men” away from the Shin-otoko, and also to protect the Shin-Otoko protectors from being wounded by the violence of the crowd.
Almost reaching the inner doors of the temple, the leader of the Shin-Otoko protectors comes to the rescue. Half-naked and with a white rope tied around his waist, he begins to walk over the “unlucky men” near this area. Once the leader of the Shin-Otoko’s protectors makes contact with the Shin-Otoko, the other protectors stretch out the white rope to be able to drag both inside the temple. The tension intensifies. Sometimes the leader, exhausted by the great force of the mass, which does not let the Shin-Otoko escape, is relieved by another protector.
After the huge efforts of the protectors, they manage to enter the Shin-Otoko inside the temple. Once attended by the protectors and the staff of the event, the Shin-Otoko greets the people from inside the sanctuary. And with this, the main event ends.
But the celebrations don’t end here.
Around 3:00 in the morning of the next day, there is another ceremony called Yonaoi-Shinji (夜儺追神事) known by very few. In this ceremony, the Shin-Otoko carries a Tsuchi-Mochi (土餅) tied to his back. And with the help of two priests he walks in circles several times around the sacred place. With this, all the people’s bad luck, collected by the Shin-Otoko, is transferred directly to the Tsuchi-Mochi. Finally, the Tsuchi-Mochi is buried in a secret place.
Hours after that, around 8:00, one last event is celebrated. In this event the Okagami Mochi will be cut and distributed among all the people attending that day (大鏡餅切り始 Okagami Mochi Kiri Hajime). It is said that if you eat a piece of that mochi you will not get sick in the summer of that same year. Every year a multitude of people stand in line to buy a piece of this mochi. Also on this day the Shin-Otoko will make an appearance to greet the people again. Many take the opportunity to take pictures with him or to pick up their children.
1.First of all, warm up well, since at this time in Inazawa it is winter cold.
2.It’s not necessary to bring food with you. As in all Matsuris (Japanese festivals), you will find a wide variety of food stalls. From tornado potatoes, skewers, okonomiyakis, chocolate bananas, castelas, etc.
3.Despite being a “little more civilized” ritual than in its origins, there is still very violent behavior among the participants. One part due to the effects of alcohol and another because of the heat of the moment. And it is not necessary to mention the multitude of people who attend this event every year. This sometimes can cause moments of danger and end with some tragedy like in the event of 2018 when a participant died. Take PRECAUTION, please!
From Nagoya station there are 2 train lines that lead to Inazawa, Meitetsu and JR Tokaido.
Take the Meitetsu train line to the Konomiya station. Go by the west exit, take the underground passage on the left to cross to the east side of the station. After climbing the stairs, walk 5 minutes to the northeast to the Owari Okunitama Shrine (Konomiya Jinja Shrine).
JR Tokaido Line
Take JR Tokaido train line to Inazawa station. From there, 15 minutes by walk.
1-1-1 Konomiya, Inazawa City, Aichi Prefecture
(Owari Okunitama Shrine)
15:00 – 18:00