The "Naked Man" Festival of Nagasu

Posted on January 27, 2012 by Brian Jaress
Tags: japan, photos

Participants crowd around and fight for the straw

Katie and I went to the nearby town of Nagasu (長洲町) for a New Year’s festival with a name that means “scrambling for a target” (的ばかい). All the English speakers were calling it “The Naked Man Festival.”

The participants weren’t actually naked, they were wearing traditional underwear (). The target they scrambled for was a bale of straw, apparently an archery target, and they fought each other to pull out handfuls of straw before jumping in the ocean.

Guys pulling straw in their underwear got top billing, but there was also a great drum (太鼓) performance and a fun demonstration of tops.

Drum performance in front of the temple

Demonstration of traditional tops near the drums

After that, and a little singing, it was time for men in underwear to fight over straw. I’m told they ritually got drunk beforehand.

One participant sits on the others

The participants formed a circle to fight for the straw, and a team of attendants surrounded them. The attendants were there to help keep the crowd safe, steer the circle of participants, and give them buckets of water to keep cool. (Even in winter, it’s hot in a pile of men.)

The attendants all had official jackets: some said the name of the town, some said the name of the festival, and some were police jackets.

One participant pours water from a bucket on others, while the attendants brace themselves on a pole

An attendant watches men in loincloths crowding and jostling together

With a great deal of pushing from the attendants, the participants started making their way towards the sea. We were part of a large crowd that followed them down the street.

A large crowd walks down the street

There were actually some foreigners participating, including people we knew. Their consensus afterwards was that they were glad they’d done it, but they didn’t want to do it again.

For myself, I was happy to stay outside the circle with my warm clothes, shoes, and camera.

A tired participant looks at the camera while the others continue to scramble for straw

A participant braces himself as others push against him

When participants got some straw, they would bite it for good luck.

Participants bite straw they have grabbed

It took about half an hour to get to the sea. There wasn’t much left of the straw target by then.

Participants make their way to the sea

Participants celebrate after making it into the sea

Participants hold up what’s left of the straw

It was quite an exciting festival. Katie and I both enjoyed it.

Katie and Brian in a crowd