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Mud-Slinging Festival Brings Good Luck in Japan
Dairokuten-no-Hadaka Matsuri: Just one of many 'naked' festivals held in winter
David Michael Weber (crossfire)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2007-03-08 15:38 (KST)   

Would you believe this is a sacred spiritual ritual?
©2007 D.Weber

It's a cold day in late February as men young and old clad only in thin white loincloths stand stoically shivering knee-deep in freezing cold water. At a signal they all rush each other flinging handfuls of mud at one another. They also wrestle and toss each other about in the muddy cold water. What may appear to be school boy rough-housing with a sado-masochistic bent is actually a spiritual ritual done to insure good harvest while simultaneously bringing luck to the mud-flinging participants and spectators. The Shinto gods must love a good free-for-all and the Dairokuten-no-Hadaka Matsuri gives them a good show.

Half-naked men gathered in cold muddy water to entertain the Gods.
©2007 D.Weber

The Dairokuten-no-Hadaka Matsuri is just one of many "naked" festivals held throughout Japan often in winter. Hadaka means "naked" but in actuality the participants of these naked festivals wear loincloths called fundoshi. Hadaka festivals can involve carrying large portable shrines, clambering up ropes in temples, fighting for luck and money, or mudslinging.

Babies borne aloft to be marked for good luck
©2007 D.Weber

One of the most notoriously violent Hadaka Festival takes place in Saidaiji in Okayama. There thousands of half-naked men fight to retrieve a sacred object and receive a year's worth of luck not too mention a hefty cash prize. Even the yakuza (gangsters) reportedly show up to release a little steam through knuckle therapy. Though officially banned from participating (no tattooed participants are allowed), they are unmistakable in their black fundoshi and aggressive behavior. This year one participant died from the injuries he received at the festival.

A baby getting a good luck mud smear
©2007 D.Weber

The Dairokuten-no-Hadaka Matsuri at Musubi-jinja Shrine in Yotsukaido, Chiba is a far more tamer affair than the one in Saidaiji. There are no cash prizes to tempt the criminal element, there are no winners or losers, there are no injuries; there is only good fortune for all and lots of mud.

©2007 D.Weber

Prior to the mudslinging mayhem, parents hand over wailing infants to fundoshi-clad half-naked males. The males take the infants down to the pool and daub their faces with mud using a specially-blessed stick. The infants' response to this situation is quite natural -- they bawl their little heads off. And who could blame them? Being handed over to some strange nearly naked man and taken to a muddy pond to be smeared with mud is no doubt a very shocking experience to their little unwrinkled brains. The parents however are quite pleased because the ritual means good health and good luck for their child.

Human pyramids collide
©2007 D.Weber

The mudslinging event occurs periodically throughout the afternoon for about two hours starting around 1 p.m. and finishing around 3 p.m. The mud-slingers huddle together around a large fire near the shrine trying to stay warm. Then with the cry "Washoi!" they head down the hill to the cold pond.

©2007 D.Weber

They split up into groups and form human pyramids with several participants riding on the shoulders of their comrades. At a shout the human pyramids slowly slog through the cold muddy water towards each other. For a few brief moments the top-riding mud-slingers attempt to grapple with their opponents before all the pyramids collapse in on themselves into the mire. Then it becomes a free-for-all mudslinging event.

Mud - An Unlikely Lucky Symbol

Lucky Muddy Faces
D.Weber

At first glance, mud may seem like a doubtful symbol of luck. In fact, most people complain about it endlessly such as when they have the bad luck to get their vehicles bogged in it, their clothes dirtied by it, or when someone tracks it into their homes. But it should be remembered that much of Shintoism is rooted in agriculture. Many rituals such as fertility festivals, yabusame, and even sumo have long been performed to ensure good harvests. Water and mud are essential for the growing of crops particularly rice. The presence of mud meant an abundant harvest of rice.

Until the Meiji Restoration (1868), wealth in Old Japan was measured in rice. Provinces' wealth was measured in koku - the amount of rice they produced on a yearly basis. One koku was equavilent to the amount of rice a person would eat in a year's time. So mud was a symbol not only of harvest but also of riches. / David M Weber

©2007 D.Weber

The mudslinging too only lasts for a few short minutes before they rush back up the hill to the awaiting warm fire. Along the way, the mud-slingers mark the faces of the spectators especially children with mud as they pass. In any other situation, smearing someone with mud would no doubt lead to some heated words and flying fists.

©2007 D.Weber

At the Dairokuten-no-Hadaka Matsuri, however, spectators are more than happy to have their faces smeared with mud because this means they too will receive good luck. Young and old alike are quite pleased to sport their muddy faces to show off their good fortune. Only the infants make a fuss about the mud-smearing.

©2007 D.Weber

The mud-slingers huddle around the fire once more soaking up its heat before heading down again for another bout of mud mayhem. They do this several times. At the end of their ordeal, they toss a Shinto Priest or two in the air in a bit of playful revenge.

The author shows off his good luck mark
©2007 D.Weber

The mudslinging participants of Musubi-jinja Shrine's festival are few in number and the festival itself is a small one in comparison to so many others even in the same category. But what makes the Dairokuten-no-Hadaka Matsuri worthy of attention is the motivation behind the cold water mudslinging.

Back into the fray
©2007 D.Weber

At Saidaiji, thousands of participants gather for the chance to win a year's worth of luck and a fair bit of cash to boot. They also participate in order to get unlimited free alcohol and release some pent-up repressed aggression by bashing other participants. Basically their motives are aggressive, self-centered, and ultimately selfish.

A mud-slinger getting a dip from his fellow mud-slingers
©2007 D.Weber

At Musubi-jinja Shrine, the participants receive nothing for their putting up with the cold, the mud, and the numb-chilling water. From a ritual standpoint, they sacrifice their comfort for the sake of the community. Their actions bring about good luck for the whole area not just themselves.

©2007 D.Weber

And at the end of the day, spirits are in high form and no one is lying broken and bleeding in the mud. So while the Dairokuten-no-Hadaka may not be on the same level of excitement to watch, its participants are far more admirable for their selflessness and good natured spirits.

Bringing about good luck is hard work
©2007 D.Weber

- Dairokuten-no-Hadaka Matsuri 

©2007 OhmyNews
A native Tennesseean, David M. Weber is currently at the grammatical grindstone cranking out gerunds, dangling modifiers and perfecting tenses as an English teacher in Japan. In his travels, he has hiked the Inca Trail, been mugged in Mexico City, broke his leg in Switzerland, attempted to bike through Mexico and failed, climbed Pyramids in Egypt and Mexico, drank great quantities of beer at Oktoberfest and gambled at Monte Carlo.
Other articles by reporter David Michael Weber

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