When the clock struck midnight on the morning of February 18, 9,000 loinclothed men screaming the collective “yahoo” word “washoi” at the top of their voices threw themselves into a desperate struggle to grab and hold on to one of the two large or even any of the lesser “good-luck” sticks blessed by the gods. The 2007 Saidaiji “Hadaka Matsuri,” meaning “Naked Festival,” had reached its climax.

A few of the combatants ended that night in western Japan’s Okayama Prefecture counting their good fortune and clutching a sacred talisman. Most left with no more than a few minor scrapes and a story to last a lifetime. One unfortunate, crushed to death in the melee, didn’t leave under his own steam at all.

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