Japan Feasts


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Japan

Stefan Gates takes part in feasts and festivals around the globe. In Japan, he joins the Naked Man festival, which involves much drinking, eating and the removal of clothing.


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Transcript


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I'm Stefan Gates.

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I'm on a journey to immerse myself in some of the most extraordinary feasts and festivals on Earth.

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From the palaces of Rajasthan to the graveyards of Mexico

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and the ancient temples of Japan, I'm hoping that, by joining in these mass celebrations,

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I'll be able to conquer my inhibitions and get under the skin

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of people and cultures around the world.

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Japan is a confusing place.

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On the surface it's ultramodern and conformist,

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but underneath you find a land of ancient rituals and obsessive superstition.

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BELLS JANGLE

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This has made the Japanese notoriously difficult to understand.

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RHYTHMIC CHANTING

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I've decided to join the Naked Man feast...

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LAUGHTER

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..when 10,000 normally respectable men go on a drunken rampage

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in a desperate attempt to banish bad luck.

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I'm hoping to get behind the respectable facade and discover how the Japanese really feel.

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It's my first morning in Japan.

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My guide, Junko, thinks it's pretty much impossible

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for a foreigner to be accepted here, but if I'm to stand any chance,

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I'll have to learn a few key social rituals.

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When you talk and you see somebody's eyes looking into the eyes, that is really offensive, so you have to...

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-Really?

-Exactly.

-You're looking into my eyes now, though.

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Not really, because I'm looking at between your eyes.

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I'm feeling really self-conscious looking at you now.

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-What else?

-Did you bring your business cards?

-I've got some.

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Oh, that's great, because if you don't have it, you will be nobody here.

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It's like a ritual. For the first time you meet somebody,

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you have to give your business card with two hands.

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And so like, "My name is Junko."

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-OK, "My name is Stefan."

-Yes, and then take it and with both hands.

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And then you have to make some comments - "Oh, it's a very nice picture here."

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What a lovely typeface you've got.

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Or a nice design or something like that.

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OK, "What a lovely design." OK.

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-So if I just took your card and put it in my pocket.

-I mean back pocket?

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That's really like, under your bum.

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-Is that like wiping their face on your bum?

-Exactly. Yes, so that is really rude.

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It's quite stressful already, isn't it?

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'There seem to be rules and formalities in everything here,

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'even when drinking sake, the traditional rice wine.'

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First pour sake.

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'Junko suggests I have a dry run on Ryotaro, the owner of the restaurant.'

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-And then he'll have some as well? OK.

-Yes.

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-And it's cold?

-No, you have to drink it at once.

-The whole lot in one go?

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-Now, you have to pour the sake to me.

-In the cup that I've drunk from?

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-Yes.

-But I might have some contagious disease.

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RYOTARO LAUGHS

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-And then you have to drink one more again.

-The whole lot again?

-Yeah.

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-Does it have to be in one go or can I do it in a couple of sips?

-Once.

-Once. Yes.

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These are very strong rules.

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HE SPEAKS JAPANESE

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-Now we become a friend.

-Excellent.

-Yeah.

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Very good.

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The final stage of my cultural induction

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is how to eat soba noodles, one of the most popular dishes in Japan.

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I try eating them as politely as I can, but once again, I've got it all wrong.

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They're slippery, aren't they?

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-You've gotta make a sound. You've got to make a noise!

-OK.

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HE SLURPS

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-Good!

-Inhaling noodles.

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SLURPING

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HE LAUGHS

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More. Louder and then louder.

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HE SLURPS

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Very good!

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So am I supposed to slurp this one as well and make a big noise?

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No, that's very rude. No, nothing else.

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-Just the noodles.

-Just noodles.

-Just noodles.

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It's a minefield out there, isn't it?!

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It might be difficult, but I'm determined to get beyond the usual Japanese reserve.

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So before I tackle the emotional intensity of the Naked Man feast,

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I want to drop in on some other festivals along the way.

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The first is a fertility festival just south of Tokyo.

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Here, in the leafy suburbs of Kawasaki, they worship the penis.

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In just a few hours' time, this Shinto shrine will be filled with thousands of people.

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But before the festivities begin, I have a chance to chat with Head Priestess Nakamura,

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who doesn't seem to think it's at all strange to worship the phallus.

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I nearly tripped over this big fella here. What is it?

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It's clear from Priestess Nakamura's tone that this is a very serious festival,

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but I can't help being distracted by the sheer multitude of willies.

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See, when I see something like this, I wonder if people find it amusing,

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if they take the festival seriously, or if it has comic elements to it.

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There is a god in this penis?

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Ah, it's a base thing to take it as something silly.

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'That's me told.

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'Despite my ticking off, Priestess Nakamura invites me to a blessing to start off the festival.'

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This is my first chance to get involved,

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so I join several dozen worshippers to mark the start of the celebration.

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CHANTING

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'I'm a little surprised when I'm asked me if I'd like to make an offering.'

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HE CHANTS

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I don't entirely know what it meant, but when you do these things, you do get this sort of strange,

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otherworldly sensation going through you - a sort of sense of calm,

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and - I don't know what it is - a specialness.

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Outside the festival is in full swing.

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The contrast from the sombre blessing is a bit shocking.

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-They say if the woman straddles this penis...

-Yeah.

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..they will have a baby.

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I can't deny that this unashamed worship of the penis feels a bit uncomfortable.

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I expected the Japanese to be deeply reserved,

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but they seem to find this the most normal thing in the world.

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'There are clearly people here, like me, who are struggling to take this seriously.

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'But back inside the shrine, there are those for whom today is no laughing matter.'

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Queues of childless couples line up to pray to the gods of fertility in hope of conceiving a baby.

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Then Priestess Nakamura blesses two portable shrines.

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I'm even asked if I'd like to carry one, as it's paraded across the city.

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'This is what I came here for - to get involved.'

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And then I see what I'm carrying.

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Of course, it's a large black willy.

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I take a deep breath and grab hold.

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But I soon develop a case of shrine envy

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when I see what's being carried ahead of us by a group calling themselves The Elizabeths.

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CHANTING

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The Elizabeths are a group of transvestites

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that come to this festival to ward off sexually transmitted diseases.

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Soon, just about everyone's joining in.

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HE BLOWS WHISTLE

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With the entire community behind us, we march our stone phallus across the city.

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So many people want to carry the shrine that we actually have take turns.

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It's slightly disturbing that it's very important that the penis goes up and down

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on its route around town.

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All of this seems a complete contrast to the formality that Junko led me to expect.

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I've got so many questions for Priestess Nakamura, I don't know where to start.

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I'm finding it quite difficult to understand the Japanese character.

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Already I'm slightly confused, I guess, because on one side,

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there's this desire not to show emotion, and to be very formal and polite,

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and, on the other hand, you've got displays of genitalia endorsed by Shinto shrines.

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Should I be confused?

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As I look around, I see real pride and joy on people's faces,

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and I realise that this isn't just a penis festival.

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What's important is the ritual, and this ritual gives people the freedom to express themselves.

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I've come to Hirado, a small fishing village off the southern island of Kyushu.

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I didn't think it was possible to see anything stranger than a six-foot pink phallus being

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carried through the street, but maybe I'm wrong.

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I'm going to the baby sumo festival, where one year-old infants face each other in battle.

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-Konnichiwa!

-Konnichiwa! Hajimemashite!

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-My name is Hiroko.

-Hiroko?

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And you speak English! Wow, fantastic!

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'The Iseri family agree to take me under their wing

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'and let me experience this extraordinary ritual.'

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-My name is...

-Akito.

-Akito!

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My name is Kento Iseri.

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'The older boys weren't that successful at baby sumo.

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'The Iseri family's hopes now rest on one-year-old Haruto.'

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My name is Haruto!

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LAUGHTER

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Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa all live together under the same roof.

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They don't look like people willing to throw their baby into combat.

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There's me here on a sofa and there's about ten of you all staring at me. It's quite scary.

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So can you explain to me what baby sumo is?

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And why would you want to do this?

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'They believe a baby that cries will grow up to be strong and healthy.'

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So he is going to be doing the baby sumo tomorrow, is that right?

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Is he ready for it, do you think?

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How important is it to you that he cries at the right time tomorrow?

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Noriko shows me photos of the older boys competing.

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I wonder how strong the superstition must be to make a mother force her baby to cry.

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Would you be tempted to cheat at all? You know, pinch him?

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ALL MURMUR

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I'm not entirely sure I get it, but I've promised to cheer on Haruto tomorrow.

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In the meantime, grandmother Hiroko agrees to let me help in the kitchen.

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Is it only women who cook in Japan?

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So who rules the Japanese house, is it the woman or the man?

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It's a tradition in the Iseri family to have a feast the night before the big event.

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Their speciality is white tofu soup.

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'It feels wonderful to be allowed to share a family's more intimate moments.'

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Do you think traditions and old rituals like

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the baby-crying sumo are very important to life in Japan?

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Private family rituals in Japan are just as important as large public ones.

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For the Iseris, it's the sushi-roll race.

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OK, so I pick it up with my fingers?

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OK, are you going to do one at the same time?

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Even a family tradition like this has its rules and regulations.

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Everyone has to face East in the direction of the rising sun and everyone has to eat in silence.

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The first one to finish wins,

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and I'm struggling.

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Grandma Hiroko beats us all.

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Much to everyone's amusement, I'm the last to finish.

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LAUGHTER

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THEY APPLAUD

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Tomorrow we'll find out if baby Haruto shares their competitive streak.

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The big day dawns.

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Parents are lining up to register their babies for the best spots in the competition,

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despite the pouring rain.

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Everyone wants to be first, because that will improve their chances

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of getting their baby on the evening news.

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I find Haruto's dad, Yuki, in the queue signing up his prize fighter.

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Good morning! It's horrible weather today, isn't it?

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He's been sitting in the pouring rain for three hours but he's not alone.

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The bad weather isn't enough to put anyone off.

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A staggering 300 babies turn up, along with their excited parents.

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GONG CHIMES

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HE BLOWS HORN

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The festival started 400 years ago.

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It's said that the sound of babies crying keeps away the ghost of an evil monk who once lived here.

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It's also believed that a baby that cries will have good luck.

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The rules are simple. Mothers carry their children into the ring and face their opponent.

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Then the referee tries to make both babies cry.

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The first one to be in tears wins.

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The sacredness of the ritual doesn't stop one mother from blatantly pinching her child.

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Some children manage to sleep their way through the battle.

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Finally, it's Haruto's big moment.

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In Britain, any parent would be overjoyed to have such a well-behaved child,

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but in this ceremony his calm nature doesn't bode well.

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We all hold our breath.

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Despite herself, Noriko's so desperate for Haruto to win,

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she's slyly tugging his hair.

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There doesn't seem to be much crying on either side,

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but the other baby is declared the winner.

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So tell me what happened?

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I didn't see the other baby crying.

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That's not real crying though.

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I think that's cheating. You're too brave!

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So you were trying to cheat, and it still didn't work?

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How about this?

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HE GROWLS

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No, it's not going to work.

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Well, thank you very much for bringing me along,

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I really appreciate it. It's a great privilege.

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It might be a slightly strange competition,

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but one thing's clear - the Japanese are proud of their babies.

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Much like a baptism, there's a huge amount of happiness at welcoming young people into the world.

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HE BLOWS WHISTLE

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The Japanese work the longest hours and have the shortest holidays of any industrialised nation.

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Death from overwork is a major problem.

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Because of this work ethic, feasts and festivals are the only time of year many people take a holiday.

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Perhaps this is why they're so important.

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It's really strange, because everyone we've met so far has been really lovely

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and very very friendly,

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but I still don't feel that I've really got beyond a kind of surface formality and politeness.

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That, I think, is all about to change.

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We've come to a place called Inazawa.

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They have one very extraordinary ceremony.

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It's this...

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It's called the Naked Man festival.

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It's quite terrifying,

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partly because I'm not particularly keen on being naked,

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and it looks quite violent as well,

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but also because it's just such an alien idea.

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But maybe that's what it's going to take to get beyond the surface

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and feel like I've made some kind of connection with

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how the Japanese feel.

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The Naked Man feast dates back 1,200 years.

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In an effort to rid their village of evil, this community forced

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a sacred man or Shinotoko to strip and run through town.

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Those who touched him would get rid of their bad luck for the coming year.

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It's become a huge honour to be chosen as the Shinotoko.

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This year, local stonemason Hiroyasu is selected.

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10,000 men will take part in the celebration,

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all fighting for the chance to touch him.

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The festival begins when he's taken into the Shinto shrine.

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RHYTHMIC DRUMMING

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For the next three days, the Shinotoko will purify himself

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on a diet of rice, pickles and water.

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BELLS JANGLE

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The ritual seems very calm and ordered.

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I'm wondering how this festival is going to descend into the mayhem I've heard about.

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We've been granted a great privilege

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to be able to interview the Shinotoko

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before he goes into his three days of isolation.

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We've been given a short window - 15 minutes - to have a quick chat before all impure people,

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like me, are banished from his life and he can be cleansed and ready

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for the final part of the ritual.

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Hiroyasu is guarded by two former Shinotokos

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who will be guiding him through his spiritual transformation.

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Why did you want to be the Shinotoko?

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I think I might have nightmares about the idea of taking everyone's bad luck and sins.

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How do you feel about it?

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Thank you very much and good luck.

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I hope that you come through it unscathed.

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Taking part in the Naked Man festival

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is incredibly dangerous, both for the Shinotoko and the participants.

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Broken bones are common and people have even died.

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As I'm leaving, junior priest Hisanori offers me some potentially lifesaving advice.

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You're not making me feel any more confident about this affair.

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So I fall down, like that, and I need to turn over and go...

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Get me out! It's like judo!

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Kosaki-san? Kosaki-san?

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OK.

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Someone's offered to take me under their wing for the big event.

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His name is Mr Kosaki and he owns a factory just outside the city.

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He's a typical Japanese salaryman.

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Kosaki-san?

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Stefan!

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'Mr Kosaki is a true Naked Man veteran.

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-Hajimemashite.

-Hajimemashite, Kosaki-desu.

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'I have loads of questions for him, but first he insists on giving me a guided tour of his factory.'

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Thank you. Arigato.

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The ordered factory gives me no clues to the side of Mr Kosaki

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that sees him strip off with 10,000 men in a drunken rampage through the streets.

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I accept his invitation for dinner,

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hoping that there might be some signs of reckless abandon at his home.

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-Konnichiwa!

-Konnichiwa!

-Hajimemashite.

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But on first impressions, Mr Kosaki's domestic arrangements are even more ordered.

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-Ah, are these for me?

-Hai.

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His wife stays on bended knee as she hands out slippers.

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Mr Kosaki has been taking part in the Naked Man festival since he was a teenager.

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What does it feel like to be kind of practically naked with 10,000 other guys?

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Do you think I'll be able to feel what it's like to be Japanese?

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'It's not the done thing for Mrs Kosaki to talk to her husband's guests,

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'but I break with protocol and ask her a question.'

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What do you think about your husband joining in with the Naked Man festival?

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MR KOSAKI SPEAKS

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Mr Kosaki seems to be a textbook example of Japanese reserve,

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but then I meet his Naked Man team.

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Wow! I can hear you from a mile away!

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Welcome!

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Thank you for coming here.

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BAND PLAYS ROCK'N'ROLL

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Whoo!

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'I'm handed a photo of the band's old line-up. The lead guitarist looks oddly familiar.'

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No! When was this?

0:31:210:31:24

Do you wish you were still in the band now?

0:31:320:31:35

'I wonder if this festival is so important to Mr Kosaki

0:31:480:31:52

'because it allows him to forget his responsibilities

0:31:520:31:54

'and express something he usually hides deep inside.'

0:31:540:31:57

The Naked Man festival might be a chance for people like Mr Kosaki

0:32:100:32:13

to let go, but I wonder if there's a more spiritual meaning behind it.

0:32:130:32:19

The next day I meet Shinto priest Mr Yamawaki at the shrine where the festival will take place.

0:32:230:32:28

The Japanese visit shrines for good luck rather than to worship.

0:32:310:32:34

I wonder where drunken rioting fits in to all this.

0:32:340:32:38

What does it all mean?

0:32:380:32:40

He gives me some useful advice about where to stand

0:32:570:33:00

to get close to the Shinotoko, but this advice comes with a warning.

0:33:000:33:04

They'd be wrong!

0:33:210:33:23

Ah! Konnichiwa!

0:33:370:33:41

Your kimono looks beautiful. Look at this.

0:33:410:33:44

Arigato gozaimasu.

0:33:440:33:46

Mrs Kosaki is worried that I might judge all the Japanese

0:33:470:33:51

on one day of drunken nudity.

0:33:510:33:54

So she's broken with tradition and invited her husband's guest -

0:33:580:34:02

that's me - to a Japanese tea ceremony.

0:34:020:34:04

Right, just sit here like this.

0:34:040:34:06

'It may look like she's just making a cup of tea,

0:34:200:34:23

'but every move Mrs Kosaki makes is defined by strict rules.'

0:34:230:34:26

And what should I do?

0:34:260:34:28

The tea ceremony dates back 800 years

0:34:400:34:43

when it was first used in monasteries during Buddhist rituals.

0:34:430:34:47

Mrs Kosaki has actually been taking lessons to learn how to perform this ceremony.

0:34:490:34:53

It's an exquisite but oddly tense display of humility, restraint

0:34:530:34:59

and simplicity.

0:34:590:35:01

But all that goes out the window

0:35:010:35:02

when Mrs Kosaki spills the tea all over the floor.

0:35:020:35:07

'To me, spilling tea is the most innocent of mistakes.'

0:35:120:35:17

You were doing so well. It was so beautiful.

0:35:170:35:20

'But Mrs Kosaki is mortified.'

0:35:200:35:23

This isn't part of the usual tea ceremony, is it?

0:35:320:35:34

Although she's terribly embarrassed, Mrs Kosaki is determined to start again,

0:35:370:35:43

and the accident seems to have shattered the formality.

0:35:430:35:47

-I'm sorry.

-No, I'm not surprised. I'd be terrified at doing it.

0:35:470:35:52

It gives us a chance for a more intimate chat.

0:35:520:35:56

I think we can be good friends, too.

0:36:120:36:14

Life here seems to be dictated by ritual.

0:36:240:36:30

Conforming to society's rules is considered essential to stability

0:36:300:36:33

and harmony, and rituals are an expression of these rules.

0:36:330:36:38

This is confirmed the next day at the cooking of the four-tonne rice cake.

0:36:440:36:48

Everyone in the community brings rice, pummels it and adds it to the mix.

0:36:520:36:56

Once everyone's added their bit of rice, they help to roll the massive cake into shape.

0:36:590:37:05

Participants come from all walks of life,

0:37:210:37:23

and as with many religious rituals, they all wear matching robes.

0:37:230:37:27

It's a small way of levelling social barriers.

0:37:270:37:31

The drunken rampage is still 24 hours away, but the sober reflection has already begun.

0:37:390:37:46

CHANTING

0:37:460:37:48

Shinto followers believe that God exists in every person or thing, but that there's no heaven and hell.

0:37:530:38:00

It's very different to Buddhism, but what's odd is that most Japanese

0:38:010:38:06

say they follow both religions, yet they also claim not to be religious.

0:38:060:38:11

I suppose that explains why Japan is so difficult

0:38:150:38:18

for outsiders to understand. But every day I share their rituals, I feel like I'm getting a step closer.

0:38:180:38:24

Back at the main shrine, I ask Head Priest Mr Yamawaki how the Shinotoko is getting on.

0:38:300:38:36

I'm surprised when he then invites me to come and see him.

0:38:360:38:40

It turns out he's finished his purification and is now on display.

0:38:400:38:45

What's everyone doing in here now?

0:38:460:38:48

I enter the sacred shrine expecting a serious, formal occasion.

0:38:570:39:02

Is he not allowed to speak? It must be frustrating.

0:39:080:39:12

Am I allowed to shake his hand?

0:39:170:39:19

Thank you. Good luck.

0:39:260:39:28

DRUMS BEAT

0:39:390:39:41

Despite its reputation for primal masculine rage,

0:39:440:39:48

the heart of the Naked Man feast lies in a rather large cake.

0:39:480:39:54

This is the beginning of the main ceremony itself.

0:39:540:39:56

The four-tonne rice cake is just making its way down the lane here.

0:39:560:40:01

There are thousands of people who have come to welcome it, along with the Shinotoko himself.

0:40:010:40:06

This is just the booze!

0:40:070:40:10

HE MOUTHS

0:40:110:40:13

This cake is so big that it doesn't actually fit under the temple gate,

0:40:200:40:24

which in any other country would be a flaw.

0:40:240:40:27

However, they've constructed it like a piece of Meccano that can just be taken apart.

0:40:270:40:32

But even with the most ancient Japanese tradition, elements of the modern world start to creep in.

0:40:350:40:41

With a little help from the priests, plus an industrial sized crane,

0:40:430:40:47

the rice cake is finally put in position.

0:40:470:40:50

CHANTING

0:40:500:40:54

APPLAUSE

0:40:570:41:00

So this is the morning of the festival itself.

0:41:150:41:18

I've woken up to bright blue skies, which is lovely, but it does mean

0:41:180:41:22

it's going to be freezing cold out there.

0:41:220:41:24

I'm still feeling a kind of sick anxiety about the whole thing, which is pathetic.

0:41:240:41:29

I wonder whether it's something to do with the fact that it's going to be such an extraordinary

0:41:290:41:35

and hugely overwhelming experience, and if I'm within it and I don't speak Japanese, obviously,

0:41:350:41:40

I won't be able to understand what's going on.

0:41:400:41:43

If I don't know what's going on, will it just be too overwhelming?

0:41:430:41:46

'But while I might be worried, Mr Kosaki is like a kid at Christmas.'

0:41:490:41:53

Are you excited for today?

0:41:530:41:54

The first ritual this morning is to write down my wishes for the year ahead.

0:42:010:42:05

So I've said I hope that my family is happy and healthy.

0:42:070:42:10

Is that a good wish?

0:42:100:42:13

It's 11am. The rest of my Naked Man team arrive with their wives

0:42:160:42:22

and everyone makes a wish.

0:42:220:42:24

These are attached to a bamboo tree that'll carry our hopes to the shrine.

0:42:260:42:31

It's midday - time for the feast.

0:42:380:42:41

Which means it's also time to start drinking.

0:42:410:42:45

Kosaki-san!

0:42:470:42:50

ALL: Kanpai!

0:42:500:42:52

For over 20 years, Mr and Mrs Kosaki have invited this group to their house

0:42:590:43:04

to kick off the Naked Man celebrations.

0:43:040:43:06

ALL: Kanpai!

0:43:150:43:19

Yes, we can!

0:43:240:43:26

It's like a bunch of teenagers on their first trip to the pub.

0:43:270:43:30

They're so excited about getting drunk!

0:43:300:43:32

Kanpai.

0:43:340:43:36

They don't waste any time.

0:43:380:43:40

After just half an hour, they're all completely pissed.

0:43:400:43:45

Then they invent a new ceremony - getting the Englishman pissed.

0:43:550:43:59

I'll take the flak. I'll take the flak.

0:44:010:44:03

ALL CLAP

0:44:030:44:06

CHEERING

0:44:100:44:12

How do you feel? How do you...

0:44:140:44:18

Such a bad idea!

0:44:180:44:20

HE LAUGHS

0:44:200:44:21

'At 2 o'clock it was time for us men to purify ourselves.'

0:44:210:44:26

I'm ready.

0:44:260:44:28

I'd originally set out to get under the skin of the Japanese -

0:44:340:44:39

and here it is.

0:44:390:44:40

So there's a communal bath, one bath.

0:44:400:44:45

Is it nice and warm?

0:44:450:44:47

There's somebody in there! I can't get in there yet!

0:44:510:44:54

OK, my turn!

0:44:540:44:55

'The Japanese have surprisingly small baths,

0:45:000:45:03

'but that doesn't deter Mr Kosaki.'

0:45:030:45:06

You coming in too? Hey!

0:45:060:45:09

Why do you need to have a bath to become pure?

0:45:090:45:15

'The old reserved Mr Kosaki is nowhere to be seen.

0:45:170:45:21

'It might have taken a crate of sake and a sea of buttocks,

0:45:240:45:28

'but I feel like I'm finally being accepted.'

0:45:280:45:31

Oh, it's cold already!

0:45:320:45:34

'It's time to change into the traditional costume

0:45:360:45:39

'for the festival.'

0:45:390:45:41

Oh! Ooh!

0:45:410:45:43

Oh, it's cold!

0:45:430:45:47

'The temperature's just five degrees outside,

0:45:530:45:57

'but this is all I'll be wearing for the next six hours.'

0:45:570:46:00

Oi, yi, yi!

0:46:040:46:06

Right up the bum crack.

0:46:060:46:08

Oh, my poor...!

0:46:140:46:15

HE MOUTHS

0:46:150:46:17

If this is the one time of the year when Japanese men are allowed to drop their respectable veneer,

0:46:280:46:33

then these guys aren't wasting a second of it.

0:46:330:46:37

As we prepare to leave, we have our first casualty.

0:46:420:46:46

One of the team takes a turn for the worse.

0:46:490:46:51

Two dozen shots of sake have proved too much

0:46:550:46:59

and no amount of help was going to bring him back to his feet.

0:46:590:47:03

A sprinkle of salt to ward off any bad spirits and then we're off.

0:47:130:47:17

We carry the bamboo pole festooned with our wishes for the coming year.

0:47:230:47:27

As we march through the neighbourhood chanting the Japanese for "let's go",

0:47:280:47:32

we're stopped by people adding their own wishes.

0:47:320:47:35

CHANTING

0:47:400:47:42

It feels like a real honour to be called to the front to lead the team.

0:47:450:47:49

Everyone comes out to wish us well as we make our way to the shrine.

0:47:540:47:58

By 3 o'clock, the teams from across the city

0:48:030:48:06

begin to merge as we get closer to the shrine.

0:48:060:48:10

Our bamboo pole is quickly dwarfed by neighbourhoods who've brought in far bigger poles.

0:48:120:48:18

There are frequent stops for the drunken brave to climb to the top.

0:48:180:48:23

Despite our own flimsy offering, it doesn't stop one of our team making a valiant effort.

0:48:230:48:29

I think we're about halfway from Mr Kosaki's house to the shrine.

0:48:360:48:40

There are lots of very drunken guys having a lot of fun.

0:48:400:48:46

-Konnichiwa!

-Konnichiwa!

0:48:460:48:48

I do feel a connection with these people I've never met before just by the fact we're...

0:48:480:48:52

Yes, we can! Yes, we can!

0:48:520:48:56

Yes we can!

0:48:560:48:57

The crowd swells.

0:49:160:49:18

I'm excited, but also a little terrified.

0:49:180:49:21

Our camera crew have to retreat to safety.

0:49:240:49:27

It's too dangerous for anyone but us to be in the thick of it.

0:49:270:49:30

The poles are hurled into the shrine.

0:49:320:49:35

Pretty soon, the front of the shrine is crammed with people.

0:49:560:49:59

Yet more and more teams arrive as the priests attempt to keep some semblance of order.

0:49:590:50:04

People have died taking part in this festival,

0:50:170:50:20

but rightly or wrongly, I feel safe in the company of my new friends.

0:50:200:50:24

WOMAN OVER TANNOY

0:50:280:50:31

Finally, a 5 o'clock, the completely naked Shinotoko appears at the top of the main street.

0:50:390:50:46

All he has to do is get the 800m back to the shrine,

0:50:460:50:50

but to do that, he must negotiate his way past me and 10,000 other drunk men.

0:50:500:50:57

We're all increasingly excited by the prospect of banishing a year's worth of bad luck

0:50:580:51:03

by touching his bald head.

0:51:030:51:05

To help redress the odds, the Shinotoko is protected by guards

0:51:140:51:18

armed with buckets of ice-cold water.

0:51:180:51:21

They drench the crowd when they press too close.

0:51:210:51:24

We should be absolutely freezing, but we're packed in so tightly

0:51:270:51:32

there's actually steam coming off our bodies.

0:51:320:51:35

Mr Kosaki had told me that being in the scrum is like life -

0:51:380:51:41

sometimes you get pushed down and don't have any control,

0:51:410:51:45

but if you're lucky, someone's there to help you back on your feet.

0:51:450:51:49

You can't see me or the Shinotoko,

0:51:510:51:53

but we're both getting battered in the middle of the scrum.

0:51:530:51:57

The head priest, Mr Yamawaki, keeps a close eye on proceedings.

0:52:060:52:10

All he can do now is watch and pray that the Shinotoko makes it back alive.

0:52:100:52:15

As the Shinotoko makes slow progress towards the shrine,

0:52:200:52:23

people become increasingly desperate to get close to him.

0:52:230:52:27

I'm still trying to touch the Shinotoko,

0:52:320:52:34

but the mass of our bodies straining against each other

0:52:340:52:38

proves too much for some.

0:52:380:52:39

As night falls, the Shinotoko is still battling away.

0:52:470:52:50

He finally reaches the shrine gates, but he still has to get 50m

0:52:500:52:54

across the courtyard to reach safety.

0:52:540:52:56

His team of protectors manage to wrong-foot us

0:53:110:53:14

and make a rush for it round the outside.

0:53:140:53:17

Desperate times call for desperate measures,

0:53:190:53:22

and a priest, attached by rolled up loincloths, dives into the throng.

0:53:220:53:26

He comes up short.

0:53:300:53:32

But straight away another priest is dispatched,

0:53:440:53:47

as the danger of the Shinotoko becoming crushed grows ever more real.

0:53:470:53:50

This time, the priests all pull together,

0:54:130:54:16

and the battered and bruised stonemason is hauled to safety.

0:54:160:54:21

The Shinotoko comes back for one last encore.

0:54:380:54:42

Inside the shrine, there's huge relief

0:55:070:55:09

that the Shinotoko's made it safely through the biggest journey of his life.

0:55:090:55:13

HE SOBS

0:55:130:55:16

He's checked over by a doctor whilst the head priest has a few words.

0:55:160:55:20

That was absolutely insane.

0:55:400:55:42

I got quite crushed up.

0:55:420:55:45

It's impossible to know where you are, where the Shinotoko is

0:55:450:55:49

and where everyone's trying to crush to.

0:55:490:55:52

Everyone's pushing and you just end up pushing with them.

0:55:520:55:55

I kind of thought, "Well, I'm here.

0:55:550:55:57

"It may be my only chance in my life to touch the Shinotoko," so I made a dash for it.

0:55:570:56:02

I didn't manage to touch him, but I was about a metre away,

0:56:020:56:07

flailing madly around like everyone else was.

0:56:070:56:10

In my desperation to touch the Shinotoko, I lost all my team mates.

0:56:110:56:16

So, half-naked and freezing, I have to make my way to Mr Kosaki's house alone.

0:56:160:56:22

'But on my way back, I'm touched by the friendliness of the locals.'

0:56:240:56:28

-You next time.

-OK, good.

0:56:350:56:37

'By joining in this festival, it seems I'm becoming accepted by the community.'

0:56:410:56:46

-Take care.

-OK, take care.

-Bye-bye.

0:56:460:56:50

'Tomorrow the formality of everyday life will return,

0:56:510:56:55

'but for a brief moment, we'd all shared some simple primal sensation of being alive.'

0:56:550:57:01

At the house, everyone's made it back, but all I can think about is having a hot bath.

0:57:030:57:09

Oh! Oh!

0:57:090:57:12

I still can't feel my feet.

0:57:130:57:15

The team have been waiting for me before starting our final feast.

0:57:190:57:22

Our one casualty has slept through the entire event.

0:57:220:57:27

ALL CHEER

0:57:280:57:30

'From the outside, Japan can seem like an alien culture

0:57:350:57:39

'but by sharing this intense experience,

0:57:390:57:42

'I do feel like I've made a connection here I never felt before.'

0:57:420:57:45

I would just like to propose a very British toast

0:57:450:57:51

to Mr Kosaki and his extraordinary hospitality

0:57:510:57:55

and for introducing me to the most insane ceremony on the planet.

0:57:550:58:01

LAUGHTER

0:58:010:58:03

You're all mad and I love you!

0:58:030:58:05

Kanpai!

0:58:050:58:07

'The Japanese seem to be in a constant battle between their heads and their hearts...

0:58:080:58:13

'..but for one day every year, Mr Kosaki and his friends allow their hearts to win.'

0:58:150:58:20

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:58:480:58:51

E-mail [email protected]

0:58:510:58:54

Series in which food writer and presenter Stefan Gates immerses himself in some of the most extraordinary feasts and festivals on earth. By joining ordinary people in these strange and wonderful distillations of their culture and beliefs, he hopes to gain a revelatory insight into how the world thinks and feels.

Stefan attempts to get under the skin of the traditional Japanese reserve by joining in some amazing feasts and festivals, a journey which culminates with Stefan and 10,000 Japanese men wearing nothing but loin cloths in a drunken rampage at a sacred Shinto temple.

He starts his trip by helping a Shinto priestess carry a six-foot wooden penis around a suburb of Tokyo, as she bemoans how kids today seem to have lost their traditional Japanese reserve, before joining the Baby Sumo festival where parents compete to get their children to cry first, to give them good luck for the rest of their lives.

Finally, he embarks on the most extraordinary event of his life - the Naked Man festival. He meets up with Mr Kosaki, a man from the classic Japanese mould who has never told his wife he loves her, who has forsaken his love of music to become a salaryman, and whose work consumes his life. He is as different from Stefan as anyone could hope to be, until his friends arrive and everything changes.

They get wildly drunk, practically naked, and stuff themselves with sushi. Then those still standing head off on a terrifying, barrier-wrecking festival that finally allows the Japanese man to reveal himself as passionate, expressive and loving as anyone. It is all rooted in centuries of Shinto food-related tradition, but is really a huge primal scream from men who spend their days unable to express themselves.