The Japanese are known around the world for their courteousness. When doing business with them, people from other countries follow special practices, such as not shaking hands upon first meeting and refraining from blowing their noses during a meeting. Everyone needs to let loose now and then, though. This is where Akutare Matsuri (translated as the “naughty festival”) comes in.
The origins of Akutare Matsuri can be traced back more than 200 years. The holiday served as a way for stressed-out factory workers to release their frustrations. Those factory workers were mainly women, who were commissioned from around the country to make material for kimonos. Taking place on New Year’s Eve in a town about 50 miles from Tokyo called Ashikaga, the Akutare Matsuri holiday begins with a hike up a mountain and ends at the Saishoji Temple, which is the headquarters for this festival. On the way up, travelers scream out their annoyances about the year gone by.
Nothing is off limits, from complaints about the government to your job; participants shout them out into the night air. Women, especially, are celebrants on this holiday because during the rest of the year, they are not encouraged to speak such profanity. Expletives they may be, but they are still tame compared to American standards of cursing. The most common curse word heard at the festival is ‘bakayaro,’ which translates in English to ‘you idiot.’
The participants walking up the mountain road are led by a man blowing a horagai shell, the sound of which is meant to ward off bad luck. Lanterns are carried by many to light the trail. An image of Bishamonten, one of the Japanese Buddhism gods of fortune, is present on items worn by those celebrating. Buses are provided for those either not capable or willing to walk up the mountain. All along the way, people shout their complaints.
When they reach the temple, celebrations ensue that include bell-ringing and praying; a stark contrast to the negativity that was spewing on the way up. The moment the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Day, however, the expletives stop and are replaced by celebratory shouts of Happy New Year! The holiday festivities take on a much happier note as the night goes on.
The leader of the celebration calls out everyone’s name in attendance and shares what their wish is for next year. The person then kneels down and holds a bowl under their lips; this in preparation for the unique way in which sake is consumed in the Saishoji Temple. When finished reading the person’s wish for the next year, the leader pours the sake on the person’s forehead, letting it trickle down their face into the bowl. From the bowl, the person consumes the drink. This is symbolic of the hope that happiness will flow throughout during the coming year. And, with that, the Japanese revelers of the Akutare Matsuri holiday are ready to face the year ahead.