The Kokusekiji Sominsai is among the most famous naked festivals in Japan. The madness gets started at almost midnight and continues well past dawn. Men clad only in fundoshi spend an icy February night yelling at the top of their lungs and testing their mettle against a number of trying rituals. The intensity and sheer span of this festival make it one not to miss!
The festival consists of roughly four climaxes. After a great deal of marching about and shouting, the participants descend into an adjacent river and douse themselves with icy water. Later, two three-meter-high log structures are built and set on fire. Small groups of participants take turns mounting these burning stages and chanting amidst the smoke. (As in the top photo.) In the hours just before dawn everyone assembles at the main temple and the fundoshi-clad men climb up the wall of the temple, where they remain for a long time with more rituals and shouting. (At this point a loincloth or two has been known to come undone- watch out!) Finally, the sacred bag is brought out and the struggle to seize and make off with it begins. This struggle lasts until one participant can make it out of the temple and down the road to a designated area. This usually happens by around 7am or shortly thereafter.
2007 Poster Scandal: In 2007, the official Kokusekiji Sominsai poster caused an uproar. While many found nothing amiss, some found it to be homoerotic and inappropriate. There was a great deal of media surrounding it, and the large bearded man in the poster (a long-time participant) was forced to quit because of the excessive media coverage. Since then things have been toned down a bit. Previously, men whose fudoshi fell off, leaving them fully exposed, often didn’t care and simply continued without covering themselves. Now, public nakedness is less permissible and in the event of a loincloth accident, the genitals in question are quickly removed from the public eye.
When: The 2011 Sominsai will be held on February 9th starting at 10pm.
Where: Kokusekiji Temple is in Mizusawa Temple. Special shuttle buses are available from Mizusawa station shortly before it starts. Taxis are also available.
Contact: Call 0197-26-4168
Participate: Yes, you can! Call the above contact number for details or just show up and declare to the festival officials that you’d like to do it. Of course you can register in advance, but it’s not required. You can sign up on the day of the festival. Fundoshi and Tabi (festival footwear) may not be available on site, so pick some up before you go.