I won't go into much detail about the particulars of the Saidaiji naked festival last weekend because it was bar-none, the most underwhelming waste of potentially brilliant hilarity that I have ever seen. On the coldest night in February, the already mostly naked and freezing asses of five thousand Japanese men, hammered out of their skulls, are hosed with icy "purification" water, then shoe-horned into a shrine to compete for--well, it honestly doesn't matter, does it? How the shit could they possibly screw this up? In Japanese lore, the Saidaiji Hadaka Matsuri typically requires no introduction because this insanity is just supposed to bloody write itself. Only a gorilla in a yellow bikini squatted on the peak of the Saidaiji's pagoda, firing a belt-fed banana cream pie machine gun down on the sweaty crowds could propel this golden potential to even greater dizzying heights of awesome. This, is the legendary Okayama festival notorious for sometimes unflinchingly killing its hapless participants in their drunken, masculine revelry.
Seriously though, what a totally sweet way to buy the farm.
The festival atmosphere upon arrival was positively electric. I could already smell the sake hanging heavy in the dense clouds of sweat and testosterone, humidity eminating from the bodies of eager participants who jogged about the shrine's premise to keep warm. Fans, supporters, townspeople, curious onlookers, foreign tourists, and a small army of police crammed the narrow alleys, and the makeshift bleachers that surrounded the shrine itself, where, at the stroke of midnight, 5000 belligerent naked men would converge to do fearsome battle for a pair of wooden shingi. At stake? Battle scars, cash, glory, pride, and good luck for an entire year.
Preconceived expectations be damned, a metallic crash announced the arrival of 12:00am, and the start of the event. The compound spotlights went dark, eliciting a cheer from the twenty-something-thousand crowd. Eyes tense, and flashbulbs at the ready, we were prepared to witness brutality. Riots. Little naked men trampled asunder, spilling off makeshift stairs and crushed against poorly padded wooden support beams. Blood, sweat, tears, and loincloth wardrobe malfunctions. Thumb hovering over Handycam 'record' button in mind-numbing anticipation, I was practically begging for the proverbial snot to start flying. Alas, it never did. Instead, in the fifteen or so minutes of actual competition for the sacred wooden incense "shingi," seemingly little more than polite jostling occurred. I was expecting a "Keep Away" variation on Russian Roulette, but what unfolded looked much more like a teenage mosh pit at Bible camp. But with more skin. I think I even heard participants apologizing to each other above the rhythmic din. Shot some decent video, but I won't bother posting it because I wouldn't expect it to bore you any less than I was, holding the camera.
And then, just as it began, the festival's raging boner quickly fell soft and limp as police gently began the premature evacuation. Many of the participants clapped themselves to keep warm, appearing confused, but relieved; others, disappointed. Apparently the festival's actual "action" is always quite short. I exchanged pleasantries with one particular reveler near the gate who cordially tweaked his purple nipples for a photograph.
Two respective orders of fresh takoyaki and re-fried fried chicken later, I was back on the Ako line already considering a train ticket to that one festival in Nagano where participants with a burning desire to be crushed, ride a giant (probably 'sacred') timber down a fucking mountain. Note that if this unbelievable potential somehow doesn't manage to pan out, then I am seriously considering packing my shit and leaving this country and its weaksauce festivals.
** Feel free to browse the infinitely more boring description of the festival at GoAsia.