(CNN) — This time a 12 months in the past, 1000’s gathered for Japan’s annual Hadaka Matsuri — additionally popularly often called the “Bare Competition”– in Okayama prefecture within the southern a part of Honshu island.
In at this time’s local weather of social distancing, the video highlights from final 12 months’s occasion (see above) are a surreal reminder of how a lot has modified since then.
Also called Saidaiji Eyo, Hadaka Matsuri takes place on the third Saturday of February on the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple, a few 30-minute practice trip from Okayama metropolis. And this 12 months was no exception.
However the Covid-19 pandemic has forged its lengthy shadow over 2021 proceedings, forcing organizers to pare issues down considerably.
A battle between 10,000 males
Hadaka Matsuri celebrates the blessings of a bountiful harvest, prosperity and fertility.
In regular instances, it begins mid-afternoon with an occasion for younger boys — geared toward fostering curiosity in youthful generations. Within the night, the 10,000 or so male contributors spend an hour or two operating across the temple grounds in preparation and purify themselves with freezing chilly water, earlier than cramming themselves into the primary temple constructing.
They are not as bare because the competition’s identify suggests. They sport a minimal quantity of clothes; often a Japanese loincloth referred to as a “fundoshi” and a pair of white socks referred to as “tabi.”
On this image taken on February 18, 2017, worshippers look forward to the priest to throw the sacred batons in the course of the annual Hadaka Matsuri at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/AFP by way of Getty Photographs
When the lights exit at 10 p.m., a priest throws 100 bundles of twigs and two fortunate 20-centimeter-long sacred shingi batons into the group from a window 4 meters above.
It is a scene that might be unthinkable at this time. The lads, packed in like sardines, jostle with one another to pay money for one of many bundles and/or the 2 sticks. Whoever succeeds is assured a 12 months of excellent fortune, in line with legend. (The shingi are extra wanted than the less-coveted twigs, which may be taken house.)
The entire occasion lasts round 30 minutes and contributors emerge with just a few cuts, bruises and sprained joints.
Guests usually come from all throughout Japan and some from overseas to participate.
However occasion organizers confirmed to CNN Journey that this 12 months’s Hadaka Matsuri occasion, which occurred on February 20, was restricted to solely a choose, socially distanced group of 100 or so males who had caught the shingi in previous years, and was closed to spectators.
Reasonably than battle for the batons, the boys gathered on the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple to wish for fertility, an finish to the pandemic and world peace, whereas observing security measures together with social distancing.
Uninterrupted for 500 years
As a part of the Bare Competition, contributors purify themselves with freezing chilly water earlier than coming into the primary temple.
Trevor Williams/Getty Photographs AsiaPac/Getty Photographs
Why not simply cancel your entire occasion?
In an announcement highlighting their causes for going forward with a severely downsized model of the competition, organizers famous that it is has continued uninterrupted for over 500 years.
“In dialogue with the chief priest and committee members, we’ve reached the conclusion that we have to pray (for) Eyo now,” mentioned Saijaiji Eyo chairman Minoru Omori. Eyo pertains to a time period referred to as “ichiyo-raifuku,” which implies “to face up to the tough, chilly winter and attain the heat of spring.”
“In different phrases, we pray for good luck after steady dangerous issues,” mentioned Omori.
The Bare Competition advanced from a ritual that began 500 years in the past in the course of the Muromachi Interval (1338-1573), when villagers competed to seize paper talismans, which got out by a priest on the Saidaiji Kannonin Temple.
An increasing number of villagers wished these fortunate paper talismans and the ritual grew in dimension. However they realized that once they went to seize the paper it ripped. Their garments simply bought in the best way too, so that they finally did away with them and exchanged paper for wooden, defined Mieko Itano, a spokeswoman from the Okayama tourism board, in a 2020 interview with CNN Journey.
With its lengthy heritage, the competition was additionally designated an Vital Intangible Folks Cultural Asset in 2016. It is one among a number of “bare festivals” held throughout Japan, with one other held at Yotsukaido in Chiba prefecture, that includes males in loincloths preventing and carrying children via mud as a technique of exorcism.
Japan and Covid-19
Day by day Covid-19 instances have been in decline in current weeks in Japan, although Tokyo is amongst a number of prefectures below a state of emergency to manage the virus. The nation has reported greater than 424,000 Covid-19 instances and greater than 7,000 deaths.
The pandemic compelled organizers to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Summer season Olympics final 12 months, with the video games set to start on July 23, 2021.
Tokyo officers at the moment are grappling with the difficulty of the right way to pull off what might show to be the most complex sporting event ever held — one involving greater than 11,000 athletes from greater than 200 nations.