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Japan naked festival: Women join Hadaka Matsuri for first time

26/2/2024 6:09
        The sea of chanting, nearly-naked men tussle, push and shove towards the shrine. "Washoi! Washoi!" they yell - let's go, let's go.
        It is scene that has barely changed in the 1,250 years the Hadaka Matsuri, or the Naked Festival, has been taking place at the Konomiya Shrine, in central Japan.
        But this year there is a change - a big one.
        Away from the men's huddle, a group are about to become the first women to ever take part.The women gathered here know they are making history. Finding room in traditionally male-dominated spaces is difficult anywhere, but in Japan - which last year ranked 125 out of 146 on the World Economic Forum's gender gap index - it is particularly hard.
        Not that they weren't always there.
        "In the background, women have always worked very hard to support the men in the festival," explains Atsuko Tamakoshi, whose family has been working at the Konomiya festival for generations.But the idea of actually taking part in the festival - which sees the men attempt to drive away evil spirits, before praying for happiness at the shrine - seems to have never come up before.
        According to Naruhito Tsunoda, there has never been an actual ban. It's just that no one had ever asked.
        And when they did, the answer was easy.
        "I believe the most important thing is for there to be a fun festival for everyone. I think God would be happiest about that too," he told news agency Reuters.
        Not everyone in the community was as accommodating though.
        "There were many voices that were concerned (about us taking part) - saying, 'What are women doing in a men's festival?', 'This is a men's festival, it's serious'," Tamakoshi, a 56-year-old grandmother, explains.
        "But we were all united in what we wanted to do. We believed that God would watch over us if we were sincere."
        The women waiting for their turn are indeed sincere. What they are not is naked.
        Instead many are wearing "happi coats" - long, purple robes - and white shorts, as opposed to the men's loincloths, while carrying their own bamboo offerings.
        They won't be part of the big scramble which accompanied the men's rush to the shrine, or the clambering over one another to touch the Shin Otoko, or the 'male deity' - a man chosen by the shrine. Touching him, as the tradition goes, is meant to drive evil spirits away.
        It doesn't take away the significance of this moment.
        "I feel that times have finally changed," Yumiko Fujie tells the BBC. "But I also feel a sense of responsibility."
        



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