Festival Focus: Warabi Hadaka (Chiba)

Japan has a host of unique festivals, but I’ll admit my eye was caught by this particular celebration’s other name … the Warabi Naked Festival. Babies, mud, men in underwear and chicken fights all seem to play a part in this harvest festival in Chiba Prefecture, a short train ride from Tokyo.

The festival takes place every February 25th, rain or shine, in the city of Yostukaido in Chiba Prefecture. The specific location for the festival is a muddy rice paddy at the base of the hill where the Mimusubi-jinja (Mimusubi Shrine) sits. It’s actually quite a lovely spot for a shrine and if you have a moment, poke around the surrounding park.

But be sure you’ve got your spot near the rice paddy by 1pm, when the festivities begin. Men in fundoshi, a type of traditional knotted loincloth, bring local babies under the age of one down to the rice paddy and bestow upon them a streak of mud, said to bless them and keep them from harm. This was done three times, though only a handful of the men actually carried infants. The rest took stalks of what looked like rice plants and embedded them firmly in the mud with a short, silent prayer for a good harvest in the season ahead.

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Once the blessings are done, the muddy chicken fights begin. Yes, gone is the solemnity as the men divide into groups and fight each other in a flail of mud and limbs. This goes for several rounds as well, with different participants taking their turn atop a teammate’s shoulders.

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For those looking to experience a very local festival, this is a good opportunity. It’s not far from Tokyo (about 50-60 minutes by rapid train, with no connections from eastern Tokyo if you time it right) and sparsely attended, meaning you can get up close for pictures and the obligatory swipe of mud the participants will be happy to leave on your cheek.

But it’s also very much a “waiting game”. During the blessing ceremony, the men would disappear after each round to return to the shrine, perhaps for prayers. About 7-10 minutes passed between each “round” in the rice paddy. Same with the chicken fights, though the intervals felt longer. Perhaps there was some sake fortification going on during that segment … I imagine the mud wasn’t warm! In other words, while the festival is scheduled for 2 hours, the action lasts perhaps a total of 30-40 minutes. The shrine is also a good 15 minute walk from the train station, though taxis are available.

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