Sominsai 2006
Hanamaki, Iwate 2006. Photo: Quinlan Faris

In the frigid air of a January morn, select men brave the cold to douse themselves with water, climb icy steps to a mountain summit, and fight each other to the finish — and they’re all NAKED. These are not the corporate drones often seen crowding the trains of Tokyo. Welcome to the snowy north.

Sominsai festivals now take place in several locations throughout Japan, but Iwate is their origin. The legend goes that the storm god Susano’o once roamed the Earth in disguise, visiting two brothers to ask for shelter. Kotan, the younger wealthy brother, is said to have turned away the god. Somin, his older brother, was very poor but still hosted the storm god in the best manner he could. Pleased, Susano’o revealed himself and swore that Somin’s descendants would be protected from sickness and disease.

Strictly speaking, the participants of Sominsai are not completely naked; they wear loincloths. Also, the water they pour over themselves is rather warm. But this takes very little edge off marching up a snowy mountain with dozens of bare butt cheeks in your face. And the battle royale that ensues at the end is undeniably dangerous.

Sound like fun? Sign up any time in December to participate!

Sominsai Festival

Where: Koshio Shrine, Hanamaki, Iwate

How to get there: See the map below. It’s 3 minutes by Taxi from JR Shin-Hanamaki Station or a five minute walk from the Miyazawa Kenji Memorial Hall.

When: January 2, from 9:30am.

Contact: 0198-31-2768 (in Japanese) to inquire about participation.

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