Inside the Japanese Festival Where Half-Naked Men Kill Each Other to Grab Lucky Sticks

A tightly-packed crowd of around 10,000 almost-naked men in Japan recently engaged in an hour-long frantic skirmish to grab lucky sticks in the dark.

Wearing nothing but loincloths, the eager participants gathered in a temple on Saturday night to participate in the annual celebration called the Hadaka Matsuri, or the “Naked Man”, Festival. Men packed the grounds of the Saidaiji Kannon-in temple in Okayama City in western Japan,to get their hands on a pair of lucky sticks called “shingi”. 

While naked festivals are held in dozens of places throughout Japan every year, the most famous festival is the Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri held at Saidaiji Temple in Okayama, the place where it began 500 years ago.

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After waiting for over an hour, the lights are turned off at around 10 p.m. before a priest throws the sacred sticks. The men then scrambled to get a hold of the 20 cm batons that are believed to bring good luck for its bearer for a full year. There have been reports of accidental deaths in the past as contestants can be very aggressive, according to AFP.

The ritual begins with the almost-naked men stepping into freezing water fountains where they are washed before they head into the temple.

After fiercely battling each other to grab the coveted sticks, the person who was able to catch the baton must place it in a wooden box called the “masu”. The eventual victors, called as “fuku otoko” (lucky men), are then promised with a year of luck and happiness.

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The 500-year-old tradition traces its roots from worshippers who used to compete in receiving paper talismans thrown by the priest. The traditional paper talisman has evolved into wooden sticks over the years as the contest would often get the talisman torn to pieces.

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