Like many temples, Hōkai-ji in south-eastern Kyoto holds several rituals and services throughout the new year period until the 14th of January, a day called "Kechigan-bi". To celebrate the end of the new year observances, the temple is host to a local event called the Hadaka Odori. With a history tracing back to the Edo Period, the Hadaka Odori (Naked Dance) is dedicated to praying for an abundant harvest, the happiness of the community, and the fulfillment of wishes. Very much a community affair, the participants are all local men and boys, and their families turn out to enjoy the festival and provide warm soup to ward off the winter night chill.
The festival begins around 7pm with priests proceeding to the Yakushi Hall where the temple enshrines Yakushi Nyorai (the Medicine Buddha), and sutras are read aloud within. Young boys from the nearby school take to the stage of the Amida Hall first, followed by the group of adult men. Both groups stamp their feet and jostle each other, hands raised as they clap and chant "chōrai, chōrai" at the tops of their lungs. The word “chōrai” is an expression of utmost devotion to the Buddhas and asks them to bless their health. Before taking to the stage the men dose themselves in water from the nearby well to purify their bodies, and the steam rising off them as they dance is just a reminder of how cold they must be wearing only loincloths!
After the dancing winds down, the priests emerge from the Yakushi Hall and circle around the building, blessing those assembled by touching them lightly with blessed sticks and chanting sutras.
The Hadaka Odori is also connected to maternity rituals, as the front flaps of the dancer's loincloths are said to be charms for an easy childbirth if used as girdles for pregnant women.
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