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Women participate in Japan’s Naked Festival for the first time

Declining numbers of participants have forced male organisers to allow women to finally join the event for the first time in over 1,000 years.

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Less than 1 minute Minutes

The Konomiya Shrine in central Japan made history last week when it allowed around 40 women to take part in the local observance of the Hadaka Matsuri (or Naked Festival) for the first time in its 1,250-year history, according to multiple media reports

The annual festival, which is normally held across Japan on the twelfth day of the first month of the Lunar New Year, features men in loincloths participating in events that are intended to fend off malicious spirits and bring good luck.

Unlike their male counterparts, the 40-odd women who took part in the ancient festival were fully-clothed, wearing traditional purple Japanese robes.

Although the women were permitted to carry out the naoizasa ritual that involves them carrying a bamboo trunk to the shrine as an offering, they were excluded from the main ceremony known as momiai, which sees the scantily dressed men scrambling with one another as they try to touch a talisman. 

[See more: The Contempo festival of Japanese culture opens to great fanfare]

According to one of the shrine’s priests, Naruhito Tsunoda, women were never formally prohibited from joining in the festival in the past, and there have been offerings made by women. Nonetheless, the unspoken rule is that the festival was a male-only event.

Japan’s ageing population has meant that festivals traditionally reserved for men have had to open up to female participants. For instance, the 800-year-old Katsube Fire Festival in Shiga Prefecture allowed female participants last month. Some festivals that refused to do so, such as the Naked Festival at Kokusekiji Temple, have been unable to carry on. 

There have been mixed reactions to the inclusion of female participants at the Konomiya festival, with some residents expressing their concerns. A 56-year-old woman cited by BBC noted that there have been people asking “What are women doing in a men’s festival?” 

Gender equality remains a major issue in Japan, with the country ranking 125th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s ranking for gender parity. 

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