Last Friday, I went to the Hadaka Matsuri in Konomiya - just outside of Nagoya. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was probably the most insane thing I’ve ever witnessed in my life. I was already running on a little bit of adrenaline from finishing up a hard two weeks at language school. I was also feeling pretty pumped about finally being able to travel solo in Japan for the first time and actually understand what was happening around me! As soon as the train pulled into Konomiya Station, you could see this small town bursting at the seams (no pun intended) with spectators and groups of loin-cloth laden men marching and screaming down the street.
This was probably the most testosterone I have ever been around. This is also surprising to me in a place like Japan, where modesty and reservation are king, but I enjoyed seeing a different side of this culture than I had expected. I think that’s one of the joys and great challenges of living and serving in ministry in a different culture: willing to have your categories for people and their practices completely shattered or rearranged and trying to really understand and observe rather than sit either in the position of mockery or judgment.
With that said, I don’t feel like going into the whole festival, the meaning of it, and all the fine details. If you want to read up more on it, be my guest.
The day’s weather couldn’t have been more perfect. I hobbled through the crazy crowds of people, occasionally discovering a foreigner’s face. Climbed on top of fences and squeezed into nooks on the sidelines to catch a better glance or take a better photo. I talked to complete stranger ojisans and laughed with them in my broken Japanese and heard about how they used to march in the festival when they were younger. I walked past the mesmerizing aroma of every type of mouth-watering Japanese street food you could ever want to eat. I watched as these thousands of almost-naked dudes shouted “Wasshoi” (heave, ho!), punched each other, laughed, cried, threw gallons upon gallons of water on each other, and shivered in the freezing cold covered in mud, blood and who knows what else.
And yet, as crazy as things were, as different as this day was from anything else I’ve experienced thus far in Japan, it was kind of normal to me. Ok, not entirely normal, but I didn’t feel like a total stranger. In an interesting way that I haven’t quite processed yet, I felt at home. That’s not something I expected. And it’s probably the first time I’ve realized that I’ve ever felt that here.
Now, I’m sure it would be a different story if I was actually in the festival. Yeah, I think it would have been a nightmare if that happened. I’m not that used to Japan yet.
I guess what I’m trying to say is I have really grown to love Japan, my friends, their customs, the language and ways of communicating (for the most part!), and constantly discovering new aspects to this culture. It’ll be a year in a couple of weeks, since we arrived here, and comparing how we feel now to what it was like when we first stepped off the plane is like night and day. So much has happened, and yet God has truly taken care of us and helped us take our baby steps here in a completely new way of life. Can’t wait to see what this next year holds and how much we’ll look back on our ‘baby’ selves and laugh and perhaps miss these times where every day is so much an adventure and an honest cry to God to help us in the midst of our weakness that we often feel so vividly.
However, if at this time next year, you see me in some photos in this exact same festival, please buy a plane ticket, knock on my door, cover your eyes, personally slap me and take me home.
And bring an extra pair of pants. Please.
For the rest of the photos (beware, there’s lots o’ skin!), go here.
© photos by Jake Gee