Japan cancels 1,000-year-old 'naked men festival' due to population decline

19:30, February 21

In near-freezing winter temperatures and wearing nothing but white loincloths, crowds of men battle each other to obtain a talisman during Japan's Somin-sai festival, better known as the "festival of naked men," CNN reports.

But the event, which has been going on for more than 1,000 years at the secluded Kokusekiji Temple, was held for the last time last Saturday, bringing an end to this Japanese tradition due to the country's aging population crisis.

Festival organizers have admitted they have been unable to find young participants to ease the pressure on aging locals who cannot cope with the demands of the ritual. “This decision is due to the aging of the festival participants and the lack of successors,” wrote Kokusekiji Temple chief priest Daigo Fujinami.

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Japan's population has been steadily declining since the economic boom of the 1980s, with a fertility rate of 1.3, well below the 2.1 level needed to maintain a stable population.

Deaths have also outpaced births in Japan for more than a decade, posing a growing challenge for leaders of the world's fourth-largest economy. They now face a growing elderly population and a shrinking workforce, as well as the challenge of funding pensions and healthcare as demand from an aging population soars.

The Somin-sai Festival was one of the three largest "naked man" or Hadaka Matsuri festivals held in Japan. It was held annually on the seventh day of the Lunar New Year at Kokusekiji Temple in northeastern Iwate Prefecture.

It was popular with both tourists wanting to see the ritual and locals wishing for a prosperous year ahead, national broadcaster NHK reported. It is estimated that it attracted around 3,000 visitors.

The event has become known as the "naked festival" because male participants wear only a Japanese loincloth called a fundoshi and a pair of white socks called tabi.

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This year's Somin-sai attracted hundreds of participants carrying kakuto, square lanterns with "Blessings" written on them, and chanting "Jasso joyasa!" (evil, go away), plunging into the cold waters of the Yamauchigawa River to cleanse his body before preparing. Then they prayed in the temples for health and a good harvest, and the culmination of the evening was the fight for a bag of wooden talismans.

The winner of the fight was 49-year-old Kikuchi Toshiaki, a local resident and member of the festival's conservation association. “It’s sad that the festival is ending. I participated in the hope that it would be a memorable festival,” he told NHK.

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