Japanese 'Naked' Festivals Keep Centuries-Old Tradition Alive : Parallels In a mountain town, schoolboys in traditional loincloths keep up a 300-year tradition. The hadaka matsuri festivals, rooted in Shinto tradition, take place to bring purification, luck and prosperity.
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Japanese 'Naked' Festivals Keep Centuries-Old Tradition Alive

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Japanese 'Naked' Festivals Keep Centuries-Old Tradition Alive

Japanese 'Naked' Festivals Keep Centuries-Old Tradition Alive

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

We're going to go to another one of those unusual summer festivals today. This one happens in Asia. It involves a parade, boys and young men who aren't wearing much and mud. NPR's Elise Hu takes us there.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: We are high up in the Japanese Alps in the village of Shimadachi for the Shimadachi Hadaka Matsuri, which translates to Naked Man Festival. The participants won't be fully naked. They will be wearing traditional loincloths or fundoshi.

This tradition started back in the Edo period in order to help ward off disease. The village had fallen sick, and the town's children marched around in fundoshi to the Shinto shrine, scare off the evil spirits, cure the townsfolk. And 250 years later, the kids continue to do this.

Some of the young kids have already gotten dressed in their traditional costumes for this festival. It includes a bright yellow headband as well as the loincloths.

(LAUGHTER)

HU: Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Konnichiwa.

HU: Tell me what you'll be doing today.

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: (Through interpreter) I will march around the town, and I will jump into the pond.

HU: All right, we're on the move. We're parading through the village with the leading boys, the 10 to 12-year-olds, chanting while they're holding this giant, 20-foot-long flag pole made out of bamboo.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Chanting in Japanese).

HU: I'm trying not to get smacked in the face with the bamboo stalk.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Chanting in Japanese).

HU: This is a small Shinto shrine, and the parade has made it here. And now with their bamboo stalks, they will pray to the god of health.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: (Chanting in Japanese).

HU: I think now that the ancient religious ritual is coming to a close, these boys are getting excited about the next part of the event.

(LAUGHTER)

HU: And this is the big, muddy finale - boys jumping into a pond to purify themselves before the gods. At the Shimadachi Hadaka Matsuri summer festival, I'm Elise Hu, NPR News.

(LAUGHTER)

HU: My mic is getting positively doused by mud right now. I don't know if my gear is going to make it through this.

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