Naked men at the forgotten city.
If you head as far west as the main island of Japan will allow, you will find yourself in Yamaguchi prefecture. This lesser-known part of Japan is home to many isolated pockets of culture such as Hofu.
Hofu city faces toward the Seto Inland Sea. The city is known to have played a pivotal role in the history of southern Japan, and while it may not be as politically important as it once was, its previous life as a city of high society can still be seen today.
Naked man festival
While commonly called the “naked man festival,” it’s official name is Gojinko-sai Festival of Hofu Tenmangu Shrine. This festival is smaller than its sister event in Okayama but just as culturally relevant. Not hundreds, but thousands of men from the city come together to carry ornate mini shrines through the streets, all dressed in nothing but their traditional white undergarments. So, technically, they aren’t naked but close to it.
The festival is meant to show the equality between men, dating back over 1,000 years. The participants can get pretty lively —drinking and eating to excess is not uncommon and all part of the experience. This helps fight the cold as the festival happens yearly in late November. The naked men eventually make their way to Hofu Tenmangu Shrine, where they symbolically remove the shrine’s spirit from its usual resting place and put it inside an ornate box. It is then paraded around the town for all to see.
A shrine students can’t miss
Tenmangu Shrine is arguably the most important Shinto shrine in Yamaguchi, as it represents education and study and is the oldest of its kind. It was built in the 10th century to honor the spirit of the scholar Sugawara Michizane, a highly regarded poet and politician. Posthumous, Michizane was regarded as Tenjin, the patron of scholarship and literature, thus the name of the shrines. He was important enough to inspire two other Tenjin shrines in Fukuoka and Kyoto. Students in Japan go here to pick up a good-luck charm and wish for prosperous studies. The spirits can bless you with good fortune for your exams or help you with your study.
The reason Hofu has such a culturally important shrine as Tenmangu is because it used to be the bustling capital of Sou province, a formerly independent region of Yamaguchi. The city also boasts Suo Kokubun-ji — a temple commissioned by the emperor with museums showcasing the city’s history as a trading hub.