Matsutaki Matsuri: Priests, lanterns and lots of naked men
Google "naked festivals in Japan" and after filtering out some inappropriate results you will yield a wealth of ceremonially engaged men.
One of these naked festivals is held on January 14 in Sendai city, the largest city in Miyagi. Known to the locals as Dontosai, the festival boasts a history of 300 years and is the oldest festival in Miyagi prefecture, located in the northeastern region of Japan’s main island, Honshu.
The most famous Dontosai festival is held at the Osaki Hachimangu Shrine and is known to the locals as Matsutaki Matsuri.
The highlight of this festival is its procession of (almost) naked pilgrims, clothed in little more than a piece of loin cloth, performing Hadaka Mairi -- literally “Naked Homage” -- marching through the streets of Sendai in a sub-zero climate.
With a piece of white paper gritted between their teeth, ringing bells and holding lanterns, they make their way from the city to the shrine where the Goshinka, a massive bonfire, is lit to send off the gods who have paid visits to the families on New Year’s Day.
They kindle around the fire before ending their pilgrimage to be blessed with good luck for the New Year by the priests at the shrines.
For the weak-hearted, there is the option of paying homage to the local shrine and burning their New Year decorations in the bonfire. For the religiously uninitiated, there are stalls peddling food, toys and New Year decorations to make the festival just a little more festive.
Be it a visual smorgasbord or deriving schadenfreude from naked men parading in the wintry cold, if you do make a trip to Dontosai next year, a little word of advice from my Irish friend: “Remember to dress extra warm to make the naked men feel bad."
This festival is celebrated in various capacities in many parts of Japan in the month of January as an act of ritual purification and to usher in the New Year. It is also known by other names such as Dondo-yaki or Sagicho.
Click the gallery button above for a glimpse.
Yvonne submitted this piece as part of CNNGo's CityPulse section. To find out what other stories we are looking for, go to our CityPulse page.