Tradition has roots in “the authoritative power of the female genitalia.”

In the coastal town of Tosashimizu, Kochi Prefecture, you’ll find Usubae Ryugu Shrine. “Ryugu” translates as “dragon shrine” or “dragon palace,” and as dragons are associated with the element of water in Japanese folklore, Usubae Ryugu Shrine, which sits high on a cliff overlooking the ocean, has long been a place where local fishermen and sailors offer prayers for calm seas and abundant catches.

However, it was felt that the sea gods could periodically use some extra coaxing into sharing their bounties with the land-dwelling mortals, something beyond the one-sided “Can we have a lot of fish, pretty please?” Any request is more compelling when you offer something in return, after all, and so it became the custom, once a year, for the women of the village, the fishermen’s wives in particular, to climb the mountain path to Usubae Ryugu Shrine. Once there, they would line up at the edge of the cliff, face the sea, and lift up both the hems of both their kimono and lower-body undergarments, calling out “Give us a big catch of fish!” and “If you’ll give us fish, we will show you everything!”

▼ Usubae Ryugu Shrine (not pictured: women, red loincloths)

The intent, according to noted Japanese historian Noboru Miyata, was to stimulate the sea deities and curry their favor. It wasn’t just the below-waist flashing that was important, either, as all of the women would wear red loincloths. “Along with the authoritative power of the female genitalia, it was believed that the addition of the red color would trigger even more magical power,” Miyata notes.

It’s not exactly clear when this ritual, known as ryomaneki, or “fish beckoning,” began. What is clear, though, is that it’s still carried out now, most recently just this last Saturday.

▼ Video of this year’s ryomaneki ceremony

Tairyo!” (“Big catch!”) the women can be heard shouting in the video as they lift up and sway the hem of their skirts back and forth, carrying on the tradition even after switching to more modern Western-style attire.

Though ryomaneki has been going on for generations at Usubae Ryugu Shrine, it remains relatively unknown to Japanese society at large, prompting reactions to the video such as:

“Please make sure to protect and carry on this custom.”
“The sea god is pretty randy, huh?”
“The sea god enjoys looking at underwear? Such an earthly desire.”
“I think this might be better at attracting fishermen than fish.”
“If nothing else, it’d reel me in.”
“Sort of feels like when they saw this, the boats would turn around and come back before even putting their nets in the water.”
“Those Kochi women are tough and bold.”

In a show of discretion, the camera stays at a from-behind angle of the participants, so it’s unclear whether ryomaneki, in its modern form, still incorporates the wearing/pushing aside of crimson undergarments. It does clearly show, though, that there’s no end to the variety of local traditions in Japan, and that some of them are still a part of life for their communities.

Source: Kochi Shimbun Plus, Tosashimizu, Twitter/@Kochi_news
Top image: Wikipedia/Araiyasushige
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