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Thursday, April 25, 2024

#ANONGBALITA: Ageing scuttles Japan’s ‘naked men’ festival

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A steam of sweat rose as hundreds of naked men tussled over a bag of wooden talismans, performing a dramatic end to a thousand-year-old ritual in Japan that took place for the last time.

Their passionate chants of “jasso, joyasa” (meaning “evil, be gone”)echoed through a cedar forest in northern Japan’s Iwate region, where the secluded Kokuseki Temple has decided to end the popular annual rite.

Organizing the event, which draws hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, has become a heavy burden for the ageing local faithful, who find it hard to keep up with the rigors of the ritual.

The “Sominsai” festival, regarded as one of the strangest festivals in Japan, is the latest tradition impacted by the country’s ageing population crisis that has hit rural communities hard.

“It is very difficult to organize a festival of this scale,” said Daigo Fujinami, a resident monk of the temple that opened in 729.

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“You can see what happened today – so many people are here and it’s all exciting. But behind the scenes, there are many rituals and so much work that have to be done,” he said.

“I cannot be blind to the difficult reality.” Japan’s society has aged more rapidly than most other countries. The trend has forced countless schools, shops and services to close, particularly in small or rural communities.

Kokuseki Temple’s Sominsai festival used to take place from the seventh day of Lunar New Year through to the following morning.

But during the COVID pandemic, it was scaled down to prayer ceremonies and smaller rituals.

The final festival was a shortened version, ending around 11:00 pm, but it drew the biggest crowd in recent memory, local residents said.

From next year, Kokuseki Temple will replace the festival with prayer ceremonies and other ways to continue its spiritual practices.

“Japan is facing a falling birthrate, ageing population, and lack of young people to continue various things,” Nishimura said.

“Perhaps it is difficult to continue the same way as in the past.”

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