A shrine in Japan that organises the famous Naked Man festival will allow women to participate for the first time in its 1,250-year history.
While the women will remain fully clothed and avoid the traditional violent clash of near-naked men in loincloths, they will participate in the naoizasa ritual, which will require them to carry bamboo grass wrapped in cloth into the shrine grounds.
Men typically wear a minimal ensemble, consisting of a Japanese loincloth known as a fundoshi and a pair of white socks called tabi. The festival, celebrating the abundance of harvest, prosperity, and fertility, kicks off around 3.20pm local time.
The Mainichi reported that this is the first time a group of about 40 local women will be a part of the ancient event.
In 2023, due to the pandemic, the bamboo grass offering was conducted in both half-naked and clothed formats. For the 2024 edition, the women’s group plans to dedicate the bamboo grass at a different time from the men’s ceremony.
Ayaka Suzuki, 36, was quoted in Yomiuri Shimbun saying that she had wanted to take part in the festival ever since she was a little girl. She said she used to think: “I could’ve participated if I were a boy!”
Ms Suzuki serves as the vice chair of a women’s group that advocated for the inclusion of women in the festival.
At a press conference recently, she said: “I’d like to pray for the safety of my family and for the people affected by the Noto peninsula earthquake [which struck Japan this month]. I will take good care of myself until the day of the festival.”
Around 10,000 people are expected to take part.
Mitsugu Katayama, an official of the organising committee told South China Morning Post: “We have not been able to hold the festival like we used to for the past three years because of the pandemic and, in the time, we received a lot of requests from women in the town to take part.”
Meanwhile, the decision has been praised by local women and gender activists, who say it is a positive step in their pursuit of equality.
Many believe that the decision to involve women more prominently in the festival at the Konomiya shrine may be motivated by a broader demographic challenge. As many rural communities face population decline due to young people migrating to cities for employment, towns are left predominantly inhabited by the elderly and infirm.
The need for increased participation in ancient traditions, regardless of gender, is seen as crucial to ensuring the continuation of cultural practices in the face of declining community populations.
“We hope they will be able to keep the tradition alive in the future,” Mieko Itano, a spokeswoman from the Okayama tourism board, told CNN Travel in 2020.
In the festival, the half-stripped men aim to snatch one of two 20cm-long shingi, wooden sticks thrown by a priest into the crowd. The sticks, thrown among 100 bundles of twigs, are meant to bring a year of good fortune to whoever is lucky enough to catch them.