Turning JapaneseNagoya, Spring 2012
“Turning Japanese, I think I’m turning Japanese. I really think so!” Well, maybe not quite turning Japanese but I’m getting closer! Having a break from classes in early February gave me the chance to experience Japanese culture in ways I hadn’t before so this blog is dedicated to two events in particular which occurred over the break and truly exemplify Japanese culture: Hadaka Matsuri (the naked man festival) and Valentine’s Day.
First off, the naked man festival: a festival famous across Japan in which one man runs around naked and is chased by other half-naked men.
Well, that’s the short version anyway. In order to expel the bad luck from the town, one man is chosen to be the naked man and is locked in the temple for two weeks where he is fed nothing but rice and water. He is then shaved from head to toe and on the day of the festival, let out onto the streets. However, before he is let out, hundreds of other men gather in sumo-style loin-cloths, chanting through the streets while being doused in sake. They drink not only to keep their bodies warm in the freezing February weather but, I can only imagine, as a way to ease the embarrassment of being very scantily clothed. The men also carry around various colored cloths which they rip and hand out to the townsfolk. Those who receive the most are said to have the best luck in the coming year. When the naked man is released, the other men chase him to touch him in an attempt to pass on all the bad luck. The naked man is then banished from the town for a year, taking the bad luck with him.
However, the most amusing part of the festival was not watching the festival. Rather, it was seeing the reaction of the drunken men when they saw us. Foreigners are still quite rare in Japan and so being in a big group of foreigners, many men came up and gave us pieces of cloth (yay! Good luck!). Some of them even kissed us on the cheek and shouted: “I love you!” Considering Japanese guys, when sober, are too shy to even say hi, this was quite a change.
Now, Valentine’s Day. Although the holiday itself is not unique to Japan, the way they celebrate it is definitely different from the United States. Department stores dedicate entire floors to selling chocolates and although you can buy chocolates, it is also extremely common for Japanese girls to make the chocolates by hand! My host mom, being the amazing woman that she is, has made truffles for several years with her friends and I was lucky enough to join in this year. It took us three days! Also, in Japan, only girls give chocolates on Valentine’s Day. If a guy wants to give a girl something in return, he has to wait a month until White Day on March 14th… Here’s hoping I’ll get something on White Day!!!
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