According to folklore, during the Great Tenmei Famine (1782-1788) of the Edo Period, the people of Oyama in Hita, Oita Prefecture, were saved from death by the sacred waters of a pond found halfway up the local mountains. To offer thanks for being spared, men dressed in fundoshi loincloths began to ritually visit Karatomari Shrine in the mountains to worship the gods. (The shrine was at that time barred to women.)
This tradition, known as Karatomari Hadaka Matsuri, still takes place, with locals praying for the health and happiness of their families. This year, the festival has also been designated an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
Men of all ages first purify themselves with water before bravely climbing the 400-meter approach to the shrine wearing the equivalent of their underwear. Any man can join in, and visitors who attend the festival will also be able to warm themselves with a bowl of botan nabe, also called shishinabe (wild-boar meat hotpot) served at the shrine. Commonly found in rural, mountainous regions, this dish is rare in urban regions of Japan.
The Karatomari Hadakamairi takes place on Dec. 14, from 7 p.m. at Karatomari Shrine in Hita, Oita Prefecture. The shrine is located about 30 minutes from Hita IC by car, or by bus from JR Hita Station. To enter the festival or watch it is free. For more details, call 090-4774-5762 ,or visit www.oidehita.com/13424.html.