We arrived in Fukui after dark yesterday, found a budget hotel and tucked in for the night. We've got a couple of travel days ahead of us, unfortunately the forecast doesn't look that good where we're headed. :(
Doing some early morning chain maintenance outside our hotel before we head out
As predicted, the minute we leave Fukui, the showers begin. Good thing we're prepared and wearing our rainsuits
Nice scenery, would have been nicer in sunny weather
Our route skirts around Ono City, then heads up into the mountains. There's actually supposed to be a ski resort somewhere around here. Makes sense because:
Snow appears on the ground! At least it doesn't last long. As we descend the mountain, thankfully the skies clears up.
A large-ass toll booth charges us for the good weather. Arigatogozaimas, I think...
I gravely misspoke when I remarked earlier that the weather is warming quickly. Latitude and altitude are conspiring against us, as our route takes us back north-(east) and climbs up into the mountains. Even at our glacial speeds, we are outpacing Mother Nature. I have to remind myself that it's still April and there are quite a number of weeks left of cool spring weather, especially up here in the mountains of Gifu Prefecture.
Checking into our hostel in Takayama
When I was a kid, I watched a documentary on Japan, and I marveled at how they had these capsule hotels in Tokyo and other large cities. They were meant for the salarymen who missed the last train home because they stayed out too late drinking. So they would rent one of these cheap, tiny bed-sized capsules in town. Inside the hotel, there are dozens of them, all stacked one on top of the other, like a honeycomb inside a beehive. And then in the morning, they climb out out of their capsule, take a quick shower and go straight back to work! Really gives a new meaning to the term, "worker bee"!
But for a kid building pillow forts on the couch, these capsule hotels were the ultimate hideaway!
When we were in Tokyo, I wanted to try staying in one for a night, but we never got around to it. We're very surprised when our hostel in Takayama had capsule beds! It was dorm-room style, about 8 capsules to a room. So cool!
Capsule hotel style!
Takayama is just a brief stopover. While in Kobe, Robin had contacted one of his motorcycle buddies in Nagano, and he's putting us up for a couple of nights as we are passing through. I'm loving this Japanese motorcycle network!
However, while walking around town to get some dinner, we notice flyers posted up all over the place advertising something called "Naked Festival". The date was set for tomorrow and it was being held in Hida City, just 15 kms north of Takayama. OMG, that sounds so weird and cool! We missed the Awa Dance in Tokushima three weeks ago. We *have* to see this Naked Festival!
I PM our Nagano contact and asked him if we could show up a day later. "We're seeing the Naked Festival!", we told him. "LOL! No problem. Have fun!", he replied. I think he's heard of it.
Alright! We are so set to see naked people in Japan!
The next day we make the quick ride into Hida City
The nudity wasn't set to begin until 8PM, but we arrive a couple of hours early anyway to scout out the town, and to figure out where the festivities were going to take place so we could get a good seat to see all the nekkid action. Although there weren't many people milling around, there were tons of stalls set up, offering all sorts of trinkets and refreshments. It looks like they are expecting a lot of people.
Okonomiyaki, Japanese pancakes. Done Hiroshima style. Very delicious!
Hida is a very pretty town, but most of it has been cordoned off to ensure people stay on the main streets
We go back to the main street and we encounter our first nekkid people
So, a couple of things:
1. The people are not fully nekkid. Thank god, because they're all dudes. Instead, they're all wearing white boxer shorts with a white wrap around their bellies like a male corset. You can see more nudity on a public beach. Again, totally not complaining.
2. They're doing very strange things. Some guy climbed on top of this tall pole, rested his belly (oh, now I see why they're all wearing "corsets") on the tip of it and then spread his arms and legs out like a starfish. Then everyone yells and chants and beats the drum attached to the pole. There must be some sort of symbolism here, but it's still very strange.
After a few of them climb up the pole and do half-nekkid starfishes, they take their pole and walk further down the street to repeat elsewhere
More people start streaming into the city. It's just over an hour away from the (half-)Naked Festivities
We've still got some time, so we go walking around Hida. Everything is closed,
probably because they've taken the day off to celebrate with the naked dudes.
So, while walking around, we notice that there are two types of people participating in the Naked Festival, the half-naked dudes walking around with telephone poles, and then there are these official-looking Dark Robe guys. While the Naked Dudes are all yelling and having a good time, the Dark Robe guys are more serious, and they look like they're taking care of business all over town.
This Dark Robe dude is lighting lanterns on the main streets
It's less than an hour before the Naked Festival begins and the sun has already set. It's getting really cold now, probably around 5C. I feel sorry for the Naked Dudes who have to walk around town with nothing on but their underwear and their telephone poles.
Thankfully, these mini-bonfires are set up at several intersections where the Naked Dudes can warm their buns
Another group of Naked Guys walks past and I realize that they belong to another team because they don't talk to this bunch of Naked Dudes. They are keeping warm another way because I see them pass around a large bottle of sake.
A serious-looking Dark Robe walks around doing official stuff
There are a lot of people in town now. They flock to the stores stocking up on supplies
like you would buy hotdogs and beer before a baseball game
The crowd seems to be making their way to a main square of some sorts, where we can hear the sounds of drum beating, and people chanting and yelling. This must be where the Naked Festival is going down. We quickly head in that direction to try to get a good seat. When we get there, we realize there are no seats...
Ah, now I understand. What we saw before was just practice
All the teams that were roving around town drinking sake and warming their male corsets around hobo fire pits, they now set up their telephone poles in the main square. Each member of each team take turns clambering up the pole and doing their Naked Starfish Dance on top of the pole. The crowd is going wild, chanting and urging them on. I think the people in the crowd are cheering for specific teams.
Edit: I read later on that each team represents a different town in Gifu Prefecture and the people in the crowd cheer for their local team. They clamber up the poles to show their bravery and to bring good fortune to their neighbourhood
Amidst all this wacky behaviour, the Dark Robes have all gathered in front of a temple and started praying.
There's quite a lot of contrast between the behaviour of the Naked Dudes and the Dark Robes. One group is loud and rowdy and the other is dour and serious. I have a theory that since all the Naked Dudes are younger and the Dark Robes are older, that the Dark Robes were once Naked Dudes at one time, but graduated to a more senior role.
So many people have come out to see the Naked Festival! Even though we got here a couple of hours early, we can't get close enough to see the action. I have to lift my camera high above my head and zoom in to get any pictures of the Naked Dudes doing their Starfish Dances. Spectators are climbing trees to get a better view and the crowd is getting louder and more unruly as each moment passes!
We squeeze our way through the thick sea of party-goers, and slowly make our way around the whole square to see if we can get closer to the action. And then we realize why the crowd is so rowdy. We pass by a drink station where huge vats are pouring out free sake to everyone in the square. Aha!
I don't normally like sake, except for that expensive bubbly stuff we tried in Tokyo. But I'm friggin' freezing now, so I pour myself a paper cup of sake and down it. It burns going down my throat and I remember why I don't like sake. It tastes very cheap, and it has to be because thousands of people at the Naked Festival are counting on it to keep warm and rowdy! :D
Pic on the right: Naked Sake Festival
My third paper cup of sake is starting to warm my belly and work its magic, because I'm chanting and yelling something that sounds remarkably like fluent Japanese.
And then something happens in the middle of the square.
A bunch of Naked Dudes mount this huge float. Two of them tie their corsets together and climb up to the very top
These Naked Dudes don't seem to belong to any of the overly-friendly neighbourhood telephone pole teams, they're doing a different thing entirely. They start beating the drums on the float. The Dark Robes start chanting some official stuff over the PA system. This goes on for awhile, and then the float start to move. Other Naked Dudes are carrying it down the street.
OK. Now this is where it goes completely off the rails.
The float is being carried down all the main streets and the crowd follows it like it was a Pied Piper. We can't get close to it since we came too late. But because we walked around the town beforehand, we know all the shortcuts through the cordoned off areas. We run ahead of the float and I manage to find a spot right at the curb of the street. I position myself with my camera, ready to catch the action as it all approaches me. The crowd is getting very pushy so Neda decides to stay a safe distance away.
I realize no picture is going to be able to describe the madness that is ensuing, so I flip it onto video mode:
Pure, utter madness!!!
Those telephone pole Naked Dudes are all chasing the float. Each team is trying to get their telephone pole closest to the float and they're pushing the other teams away. It is utter chaos. Words can't even describe the scene. There are Naked Dudes drunkenly spilling out onto the crowds lining both sides of the street. Policemen in hats and white gloves are blowing their whistles trying to keep the Naked Dudes away from the spectators to keep them safe, but it's an exercise in futility.
We are now part of the Naked Festival.
The Naked Dudes push me and everyone else around me against the buildings lining the street. I'm being crushed. That's when I realize that all these store windows have been boarded shut with plywood. Hah! The shop owners along the main street knew this was going to happen! The policemen push the Naked Dudes off us and they continue chasing the float as it's being carried away from us.
The crowd eagerly follows, people rush past me like a wave and suddenly I'm left standing there wondering: OMG WTF just happened?!?!
We stay a bit longer watching with amusement from (very) afar. But it's getting close to midnight now and we have to get up early to ride out of town tomorrow. So we begrudgingly trudge back to our bikes and head back to Takayama. The darkened roads are completely devoid of traffic because everyone is still partying with the Naked Dudes.
Back in my capsule bed in Takayama
My body is still buzzing after the sheer insanity that was the Naked Festival. I can still hear the chanting and drum beating in my head, despite being safely cocooned inside this quiet, tiny capsule. This juxtaposition feels so surreal.