Women in Japan allowed to take part in ‘naked festival’ for first time

Fully clothed women will take part in hadaka matsuri, in which thousands of men dress in next to nothing to drive away evil spirits

Women in Japan have been permitted to take part in an ancient ceremony, known as the naked festival, for the first time in the event’s history, albeit with modifications.

Every February, thousands of men dressed in next to nothing take part in the hadaka matsuri at a Shinto shrine in Inazawa, a town in central Japan, to drive away evil spirits over the coming year.

The festival has been regarded as off-limits to women since it was first held in the town about 1,250 years ago, but organisers will allow a group of about 40 women to take part on 22 February, according to Japanese media reports.

The women, who will be fully clothed, will make ritual offerings of bamboo grass but will not be part of the festival’s momiai climax, in which men dressed only in fundoshi – a type of traditional loincloth – tabi socks and hachimaki bandannas clash with each other as they attempt to transfer their bad luck to a “chosen man” by touching him before he is withdrawn to the safety of the shrine.


Ayaka Suzuki, who campaigned for the unofficial ban on women to be lifted, said she had wanted to take part in the festival since she was a child. “I could have participated had I been a boy,” she told reporters, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

Ms Suzuki added that she would use the opportunity to pray for her family’s safety and for people affected by the recent deadly earthquake on the Noto peninsula.

Organisers of Japan’s myriad festivals have come under pressure to open them up to all-comers amid concern that rural depopulation could put an end to events traditionally dominated by local men.

This month, women took part in the Katsube fire festival in Shiga prefecture for the first time in its 800-year history.

But organisers of the Somin-sai – which also features minimal clothing – in the northeast town of Oshu announced last month that the event would be held for the final time this year.

Daigo Fujinami, chief priest at the temple that hosts the 1,000-year old festival, told the Mainichi Shimbun that the decision had been prompted by the advanced ages of many local men and a lack of people to oversee the event.

Mr Fujinami dismissed suggestions that the festival be opened up to people living outside the town, saying it would not be in keeping with “core rituals” that had been handed down by generations of locals.

While some have welcomed the revamped naked festival as a modest step forward for gender equality, other areas of traditional life in Japan are still off-limits to women, including the dohyo ring used in the country’s sport of sumo.

While women compete in amateur sumo, they cannot fight professionally and are banned from even stepping on to the dohyo – a dirt-covered circle marked out with half-buried rice-straw bales – used in the six main tournaments held every year.

The rule has occasionally caused embarrassment to organisers of the centuries-old sport.

Sumo authorities battled allegations of sexism in 2018 after several women, including a nurse, rushed on to a sumo ring to administer first aid to a local mayor who had collapsed after suffering a stroke. Using the public address system, the referee repeatedly ordered them to leave the ring, but the women refused. – Guardian