we touched this same spot with our hands, our feet, our gaze and our dreams

Friday, March 22, 2013

The naked truth in Japan

A heap of round bodies squirms and squeals as the chilly night air descends upon it. Its outer rim of pale exposed flesh shudders in the lantern light like an inflated over-plucked chicken. Rolling down the streets, it passes crowds of people who shuffle along under the shadows of rickety buildings, clutching steaming buns and sticks that drip with jammy sauce. Buttocks jiggle, arms flail, loincloths flash like crumpled smiles into the dark….

No, this isn’t a scene from a Heironymous Bosch painting. It is, in fact, the somewhat less infernal Hadaka Matsuri, or Naked Man Festival. Yes, that’s right, a festival for hoards of Japanese men to brave freezing temperatures in barely more than their birthday suits.

The Naked Man Festival has a long tradition in Japan, with a deep well of symbolism that goes beyond the surface of its wrinkled hindquarters. And if one were to flip through a Japanese history book, references to nudity would come hard and fast - from images of feudal peasants working fields unclothed, to public baths peppered with naked bodies. Given these aspects of Japanese history and culture, it would be easy to assume that nudity is commonplace in Japan, and not necessarily linked to sexuality as it is in the West.

In “Pink Samurai,” Nicholas Bornoff writes: “At the two extremes of female and male in popular culture, one finds the geisha and the sumo wrestler: the dainty living doll standing for femininity and the mountainous icon of macho flesh with the little porcine eyes.”

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