Monday, February 25, 2002

Best. Festival. Ever.

It's Hadaka Matsuri, better known as the naked festival. It happens all over Japan and multiple times a year. And if you're a girl, no one asks you to take your shirt off. That's because this is a men's festival.

Professor Satoshi wrote a great description for the occasion. He's participated in the festival for six years, and though his English isn't perfect, it's pretty damn good for a Japanese person.
Konomiya Naked Festival takes place every year on January 13 of the lunar calendar, which is February 24 this year. The festival started in 767 A.D., so this festival has 1235 year history, and this festival is regarded as one of the most weird or strangest festivals in Japan.

On one day before the festival, a huge rice cake is carried to the Konomiya Shrine where the festival is held. You can watch many people bringing the huge rice cake probably between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. around the Konomiya Shrine. A week before the festival, what we call "the man of god," is chosen among citizens. Then he will shuts himself up in the Shrine and shaves the hair all over his body, and has only rice and water for several days until the festival. The man of god represents a divine character, and this practice purifies his body and spirit, making him sacred.

On the day of the festival, a lot of men wrapped up in bleached cotton on the lower half of the body, which is similar to the appearance of a Sumo wrestler, go to the Konomiya Shrine. They usually form a group ranging from 10 to 100 members when they leave their village or town.

hadaka matsuri On the way they swing in the street with a long bamboo tree bound by cloth, drinking a lot of rice wine. They dedicate the bamboo to the Konomiya Shrine, hoping that their wish will come true. Some men go home after that, but some wait for the appearance of "the man of god."

The man of god appears at around four o'clock in the evening, but his appearance is unnoticieable for most of the participants. Even though he is completely naked, spectators cannot see him because hundreds of half-naked men surround him as soon as the man of god appears in the front yard of the Konomiya Shrine.

As soon as the man of god turns up in the front yard, hundreds of half-naked men throng around him and desperately try to touch him. If one touches him, one is believed to get rid of misfortune in the following 12 months. It is extremely difficult to touch "the man of god" because of the huge crowds who push themselves to the center where the man of god is lying, but I succeeded in touching him three times out of six attempts! Last year it was very tough to touch him because of a huge crowd (probably more than one thousand men trying to touch him)

Based on Shintoism, Japanese people regard men's 23 and 42 years old as the ages that men suffer from a misfortune, because men at age 23 and 42 are, physically and mentally, at a turning point in their lives. The festival is for those two age groups who are somehow vulnerable, but men at all ages can participate in the festival.

Hundreds of half naked men push themselves to reach the man of god.The water is sprinkled over the crowd by dozens of men, and it is spectacular to see that the water soon becomes steam. The man of god usually faints several times with many scars in his body. He is usually dedicated to the Konomiya Shrine after one-hour jostle.
That's right. It's a festival all about drunk half-naked men trying to touch a sober completely naked man. I think this either started as a dare or a prank. But it was pretty interesting to watch, and like most Japanese festivals there are huge shoving crowds and lots and lots of old women. Plus there are also tons of Japanese food vendors that sell lots of cheap and yummy food like chocolate bananas. Even foreigners can participate. My friend Ashley participated and got so drunk that he couldn't remember most of the festival.

posted by Alison 2/25/2002 12:59:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, February 22, 2002

I had one of my wisdom teeth pulled just a few days ago. For some reason most of the foreign students around here are wary of Japanese doctors. But my tooth extraction took a mere 10 minutes and after only 2 hours the bleeding had stopped and I was eating chicken for dinner that night. My doctors took their time to make sure that I completely understood what was going on and even made sure that I found someone to translate my medical consent form so that I would know exactly what I was signing. And with the four different kinds of antibiotics and other prescription medications, the consultation, and the actual oral surgery everything in total it cost me about $30 dollars American (about 3700 yen). If I had this done in the states, (now that my prescription medication coverage has mysteriously disappeared) it would have cost me at least 10 times as much, probably more.

Why is this so cheap? It's because I have the luck to be on a one-year visa where I have been given the privilege of paying into the Japanese National Health Insurance Program. For a cool $12 (about 1400 yen) a month, 80% of my medical expenses are automatically covered. Which why I'm so dumbfounded over why people are so upset over the proposal to hike the share of health expenses paid by salaried workers to 30%. People are always going to be pissed off when you make them pay more for something that they've always taken for granted. I don't profess to know a lot about health care, but for crying out loud, it costs more here to take the kids to McDonalds than it does to take them to the doctor.

posted by Alison 2/22/2002 01:07:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Friday, February 15, 2002

Nagoya CastleI've been taking a lot of really cool pictures, but unfortunately I'm currently without a graphics program to edit them down to the small size I prefer for my web page. I'm debating about whether or not to shell out the full $300 for the student version of Adobe Photoshop. I'm watching Ebay, but I'm not very hopeful. In the mean time, my cell phone takes photographs and they are just about the right size for what I need even if the quality isn't 100%.

posted by Alison 2/15/2002 03:14:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

I was surprised, but it seems that in Japan Valentines Day is an even bigger deal than in the United States. All of the department stores are filled with tons of chocolate (as well as chocolate making accessories) at an even larger scale than what would be seen in US stores. However, while most American men will spend about 5 times as much as their dates, on this side of the Pacific it's mostly women doing the spending. Young women use Valentines Day to give the boys they like what is known as giri-choco; literally translated it is 'obligation chocolate.' Boys are expected to return the favor one month later on 'White Day' when they buy presents for the girls who gave them chocolate. If a boy is not interested in a girl, then he is not obligated to give her anything on White Day, so I expect I'll see a lot of broken hearted high school girls on that day. I think White Day wins the big prize for the most artificial holiday ever because no one is in any sort of denial about it being anything other than a corporate creation. But the Japanese seem to be a lot less likely to be annoyed by things like this.

I had a really great Valentines Day because it was a day off of school and it was a perfect day for walking around. Most of the foreign students here in Nagoya seemed to be pretty bitter, probably because their significant others are oceans away or they haven't had any luck with the Japanese students. I'm pretty lucky because Clark is living in Seto only about an hour train ride away. We didn't really do a Japanese or American style Valentines Day (maybe it was an impoverished student style Valentines Day) and spent pretty close to the same amount of money, which is what I actually prefer.

The best Japanese holiday so far has been Hina-Matsuri, just because it is such a departure from Western Holidays. Basically it is a day to celebrate the coming of spring. But this best part is that you get to throw beans and yell 'Oniwa-soto, Fukuwa-uchi' (out with the devil, in with luck). I'm a big fan of throwing things. I went with my host family to the temple at Ossu Kannon in order to catch beans thrown by people off of a balcony. The custom is to eat the same number of beans as your age, so the older you are, the more beans you need to catch. Since it was early, I was the only non-Japanese person in the bean catching crowd, so naturally everyone threw their beans at me. I kept on getting hit in the eye, but it didn't take long to get the right number of beans.

posted by Alison 2/15/2002 03:14:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, February 09, 2002

I'll be taking off for Hiroshima in a few days and after that I hope to be able to spend more time on this blog.

I also have a lot of cool pictures from my cell phone that need to be posted, but unfortunately since it's opening exam time for the Japanese students here I can't hook up my laptop to upload the photographs. (The regular computers don't allow regular FTP to a non-Nanzan account {Boo!})

posted by Alison 2/09/2002 02:54:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

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