Steam from sweat rose in the frigid air as hundreds of near-naked men tussled over a bag of wooden talismans, performing a dramatic end to a 1,000-year-old ritual in Japan that took place for the last time.

Their passionate chants of "jasso, joyasa" (meaning "evil, be gone") echoed through a cedar forest in Iwate Prefecture, where the secluded Kokuseki Temple has decided to end the popular annual rite.

Organizing the event, which draws hundreds of participants and thousands of tourists every year, has become a heavy burden for the graying local faithful, who find it hard to keep up with the rigors of the ritual.