Chasing Cherry Blossoms
about mearchive

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fake Quakes, Pancakes... AND LOTS OF NAKED MEN.

Another week, another ridiculous festival going on in some part of Japan. This time around, it was Okayama's own "Naked Man" Festival. If the title wasn't clear enough, allow me to explain... three-thousand fundoshi-clad men, one icy cold winter evening in Okayama, and a cash prize of £35,000. The festivities began at around 9pm.  The nappy-wearing participants were marched into the temple, after completing a circuit around the outside (including a detour through a subzero-degree temple pond) and attempted to take their place on the unfeasibly small temple platform. All it took was one misstep, and a whole barrage of bodies would come tumbling down the temple steps, like some sort of weird, vertical Mexican wave.  And, as much as we may have been shivering from our spectators' pit outside, the mass of bodies was such that when the monks, perched in their safety zone metres above, poured water on the heaving mass, it was immediately spat back out as steam. Crushing and suffocation seemed like realistic possibilities for the participants. And that was before any of the real activity had even begun!

It wasn't until an hour later, at 10pm, that the show really got underway. The lights on the temple were shut down completely. The moment had arrived. The sticks were about to be dropped. By the time the lights had flashed back on, three incense-infused batons had been dropped into the crowd. Now it was one big, naked brawl as the participants punched, kicked and clawed their way through the mass of bodies in an attempt to get their hands on one of the prized sticks. The one who managed to keep hold of the Prized Stick long enough to make it out of the temple gates would be the one who would win the money. Of course, it wasn't only the sheer number of people which made it a near-impossible challenge. Of the three sticks, only one was the Money Stick. The other two were decoys. So even if you made it all the way to the gate, stick in hand, if your stick was a decoy, your efforts were in vain. What's more, being incense-infused, the sticks' smells betrayed their location, making it even easier for rival competitors to track you down.

The monks take in the spectacle below.

All in all, it was a hilarious spectacle! Original plans had been to be participators ourselves, but having seen the events unfold, we thanked the Heavens that we ended up as spectators instead! Those participants we spoke to afterwards were certainly all a little scarred by the experience. The lucky ones came out with just a few bruises and a handful less toenails. Those who were less lucky broke bones. Last year, somebody even died. Significantly less funny.

Other news this week includes an interesting "Fake Quake" experience at school. Sitting in the office, my Kyoto-sensei (vice principal) ushered me into a side room. My guilty conscience nerve throbbing, I immediately presumed I'd done something wrong. Thankfully, he wasn't handing me my P45, but started speaking, in hushed Japanese tones, about a "じしん" and pointing to his watch. Luckily, I knew that "じしん" means "earthquake", so, after a little initial confusion (where I panicked and thought he was telling me a quake was on its way and we were all going to die), I was able to work out what he was saying. At 1.30pm, the school would be hosting its own "Fake Quake" to test staff and students' reaction times in the event of a real emergency. So there we were, in the middle of cleaning time, when an intercom annoucement throughout the school tells us that a quake has just hit in nearby Sukumo and that we should brace ourselves for the aftershocks. Immediately, kids threw their brooms and cloths aside and prepared themselves for the worst, ducking in the corridors and dive-bombing under tables. I found myself huddled in a corner with a kid, (usually the loud joker of the class, now silent and terrified), who simply looks up at me, says "DANGEROUS" and reinserts his head between his legs. There was certainly a perversion to watching all these poor kids drop everything they were doing and run for their sweet lives when you knew it was all just a hoax. But, better that than the real thing!

To top it all off, Tuesday of last week was also Pancake Day in England! Now, it may not be celebrated here in Japan, but I'm not forgetting my roots that quickly! Et voila...!

Image Hosted by


Post a Comment

<< Home

Layout adapted from a creation by tuesdaynight / Click here to go home.