Loincloths at least, gentlemen, says shrine in change of policy in how to ask the gods for a good harvest and plenty of fish.

Ever year, Owase Shrine, in the town of Owase, Mie Prefecture, holds its Yaya Matsuri, or Yaya Festival. As with many Shinto festivals, part the proceedings include prayers to the gods asking for abundant harvests for farmers and bounteous catches for fisherman, ensuring the health and prosperity of the community in the year to come.

Part of this request to the divine powers involves a purification ritual called korikaki, in which male festival participants plunge into the waters of the ocean and nearby rivers after nightfall. A startling side note, though, is that these nighttime dips don’t take place during Japan’s sweltering summer, but at the start of February, when overnight temperatures can dip down close to freezing. What’s also startling, for those unfamiliar with the Yaya Festival, is that the men jumping into those chilly waters are completely naked.

Still, for nearly 300 years, Owase has been able to find men willing to strip down and jump in.

▼ Video of the Yaya Matsuri koriaki, with censor mosaics in place

As of this year, though, that tradition is ending.

Last year, the Owase Shrine Parishioners Association was cautioned by the Mie Prefectural Police about the potential online diffusion of photos from the event showing naked participants, which could then lead to legal/criminal complications. After discussing the situation, the parishioners association has come to the decision to require korikaki participants to wear shorts, swimsuits, loincloths, or other articles of clothing which will conceal their manly bits before jumping into the water. This policy will remain in place going forward.

“In order to preserve our traditions, we want to make what revisions that we can,” says Atsushi Naka, head of the parishioners association. “We hope that the people of [the community in which the festival takes place] will understand.

As evidenced by the above video, the naked portion of the Yaya Matsuri isn’t a secret. There’s officially sanctioned media coverage, and private photography/filming doesn’t appear to be banned either. The concern raised by the Mie Prefectural Police, though, involves photos from the festival being posted on social media platforms, where regulations regarding censoring and privacy clearances may not be as strictly enforced.

It’s worth noting that the decision to require clothing doesn’t appear to be something that local residents are clamoring for, presumably because the surrounding community has had three centuries to get used to the annual mid-winter skinny dips. Ostensibly, the Yaya Festival may have been able to continue with the naked korikaki by banning photography/filming during that portion of the festivities, though that may have negatively impacted the visibility of the event as a whole and reduced its ability to attract visitors and contribute to a sense of local pride.

This year’s Yaya Matsuri is scheduled for February 1-5, though we’ll likely have to wait a few more months to see if the lack of nudity is still able to convince the gods to grant their blessings to Owase’s fields and fishing spots.

Source: Livedoor News/Kyodo via Jin, NHK News Web
Top image: Pakutaso
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