Japan's Incredible New Year Festival Involves 10,000 Semi-Nude Men

And this year, it's going digital.


Skin thwaps skin as a mass of 10,000 loincloth-clad men undulates with rumbling kinetic energy. It may be freezing outside, but here in the temple it’s all sweat and ricocheting grunts. They lunge, twist, climb, yell, slip, tangle limbs, and trip each other in a grand mosh pit of masculine bravado. Their goal is to best each other and eventually grasp one of two little sticks symbolizing good luck, and all’s fair to get their prize-even if there’s a priest watching. 

Commemorating New Year for over 500 years, this spectacle occurs every third Saturday in February at Okayama’s Kinryozan Saidaiji Buddhist temple in Western Japan, though, naturally, this year’s take will look much different than the last five centuries. Called the Saidaiji Eyo festival, it’s the most famous of the Hadaka Matsuri, or Naked Man Festivals. These particular men-and only men-converge to court good luck and a bountiful harvest. At other similar festivals, like central Japan’s Mitsuke Tenjin Hadaka Festival, men parade through town carrying lanterns and ward off evil spirits by performing a devil dance.Dating back to 1510, the Saidaiji Eyo tradition began when the temple would hold its traditional Buddhist New Year service to appeal for peace and a bountiful harvest. But only elders of the temple would receive good-luck talismans. The worshippers coveted them for their own good fortune, and began to rumble for the fragile pieces of paper. Eventually the talismans were wrapped around wood to prevent tearing, and dropped down to the masses to compete for the “treasured tree” in a tradition still going strong. In 2016 the Japanese government designated it an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset.


Participants aren’t totally naked, but their fundoshi-traditional Japanese underwear-don’t cover that much, especially during the chaotic jostling. The fundoshi are worn because they’re easier to move in, but, really, they do the heavy lifting to make this a must-see attraction and give the festival its cheeky name.

Daytime at the festival means drummers, food stalls, and children’s activities, and fireworks. When darkness falls, it’s time for the men, who begin by splashing around a fountain near the temple, cleansing the misfortunes of the past year. After everyone’s purified and freezing in February weather, they shuffle over to the main hall of the temple, where priests toss out the two shingi- 20-centimeter-long batons symbolizing good luck-plus 100 bundles of twigs that mostly just symbolize twigs.

The men scramble for their treasured trees, going at it on their own or more likely concocting plans with teammates. Though it’s dark, the shingi are soaked in perfume, so they can also use their noses to guide the way. 

Once the found shingi is verified, the finder is deemed Fukuotoko, or lucky man, who will be the recipient of good fortune all year. The whole event lasts about a half hour. In a regular year foreigners can also participate, provided they register beforehand. All the equipment needed-your mawashi and your tabi, sock-like sandals-is sold at the venue. 

But this isn’t a regular year. The festival has been held for centuries without fail-including during WWII conscription-so in order to keep the tradition alive in the middle of a pandemic, they’ve had to curtail a few things. Rather than open it to the public, on February 20th 141 past winners from 1989 to 2020 will be the only participants, and a winner will be chosen by a relay game, which will be broadcast online. 

Not a champion? You can still participate digitally. Men will send pictures of themselves in loincloths and the temple will post them online in an attempt not only to break the internet, but to set the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of loincloth posts per hour. 

Because sure, they do it for luck. But the lucky ones are those of us watching. Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterestYouTubeTikTok, and Snapchat!

Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. She will emerge for a full moon. 


Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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