Only naked men participate (there are no naked women!), and the men that do participate are not always the sexiest examples of Japanese manhood either. That being said, the festival still manages to draw huge crowds to the precincts of the ancient shrine.
Naked festivals are held in various places around the country, but one of the biggest, oldest and more famous festivals is Inazawa's Konomiya Naked Festival, held annually since the year 767 to offer invocations to dispel evil spirits and disease, and drive out bad luck and welcome in the good.
Groups of participants mostly of the ages considered unlucky for men, and dressed only in light, white cotton fundoshi loincloths carry colorful portable shrines mounted on long, ribbon covered poles and long stalks of freshly cut decorated bamboo to the chants of Washoi! Washoi! Washoi! The only other thing they wear are colored cotton headbands. These are later torn into strips and passed out. Receiving one or two of these strips is said to bring good fortune. As the groups of naked men pass by certain points, people with buckets of ice cold water splash them as part of the purification process. It's a raucous, riotous festival where the sake flows freely, and towards the end of the day, there can be some rather embarrassing moments when the loincloths of the more inebriated start to come undone.
A young local man is chosen to be the annual Shin-Otoko, or Lucky Man. He is completely shaven of all hair,…even his eyebrows are removed, and he runs the course completely naked, chased around the shrine by hundreds of loincloth clad participants, all eager to touch or hit him, passing their bad luck onto him, and bringing luck to themselves. After battling the masses, the Shin-Otoko makes his final prayers at the shrine before being driven out of town, taking all the bad luck bestowed upon him as he goes.
As with all Japanese festivals, there are plenty of food and drink stalls around the area, and many great photo opportunities too! If you find yourself in Aichi during the cold February months, about the time of the second moon, make sure you experience Inazawa's Konomiya Shrine Naked Festival.