Saidaiji Kannonin Temple Travel Guide

Saidaiji Kannonin Temple
Perhaps the strangest temple in Japan, Saidaiji Kannonin has a colorful origin story, and plays host to a bizarre battle royale with over 9000 competitors.

Constructed in the middle of the 8th century AD, the past of this temple is surrounded by legend (while its present is decidedly bizarre). Its founder was a woman by the name of Minato Fujiwara from present-day Yamaguchi, who was a devout follower of the Bodhisattva of mercy, Kannon.

On a boat trip to deliver a statue of Kannon to Kamakura, she stopped to visit her husband in Okayama. When she tried to leave again, the boat wouldn’t budge until the statue was removed — it seemed Kannon had chosen her home, and so a new temple was built around her instead.

If that story sounds strange, wait till you hear what happens there nowadays: the so-called Hadaka Matsuri “Naked Festival.” On the third Saturday of each February, over 9000 men dressed only in loincloths fill the main square. They gather at Saidaiji Kannonin Temple to compete to catch one of 100 lucky willow branches thrown by the priests, and two wooden talismans called ofuda which must be placed in a wooden box before anyone can steal it from them. Even the strongest running back would struggle to pull off that feat!

What ensues is a chaotic melee as thousands of near-nude Japanese dudes jostle and wrangle to nab the good luck for themselves. If you don’t fancy stripping down and wrestling against thousands of rowdy men, then you can try to secure a ticket for the stands (but do so well in advance, because they sell out fast).

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