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Aging population ends 'Naked Men' festival in Japan's Iwate prefecture after a millennium

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After over a thousand years of tradition, the iconic "Naked Men" festival in Japan's Iwate prefecture has come to an end mainly due to an aging population and dwindling participation.

End of tradition: The final iteration of the festival, known locally as Sominsai, was held on Feb. 17 at Kokuseki Temple in Oshu, Iwate prefecture, reported ANN. This year’s event attracted approximately 9,000 attendees participating in different cultural rituals. In "Somin-bukuro Soudatsusen," over 200 men in loincloths competed to seize bags of talismans (Somin-bukuro) in hopes of abundant harvests and prosperity.

An aging population laments: While the celebration continues to draw hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, the aging local faithful have lamented how organizing the event has become such a heavy burden.

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"You can see what happened today – so many people are here, and it’s all exciting,” said Daigo Fujinami, a resident monk of the temple, as per the South China Morning Post. ”But behind the scenes, there are many rituals and so much work that have to be done."

Enjoying while it lasts: While traditionally spanning from the seventh night of the Lunar New Year to the following morning, recent editions of the festival were shortened – this year's concluded before midnight. Despite the constraints, participants remained dedicated to upholding the festival's spirit, engaging in rituals symbolizing purification and invoking blessings for a fruitful harvest. Toshiaki Kikuchi, a resident deeply involved in organizing the festival, expressed hope for the tradition's revival in some form in the future.

Signs of the times: The decision to end the “Naked Men” festival reflects a broader trend in Japan, where similar cultural traditions and community activities have been reduced in scale and duration, according to Jiji. The COVID-19 pandemic in the past few years further exacerbated the logistical challenges of organizing such events.

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Organizers of the Hadaka Matsuri festival in the Konomiya Shrine in Aichi prefecture this year decided to welcome women to participate in some of the age-old rituals to boost attendance.

 

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