What do the Vatican, most Catholic churches and Muslim mosques, the Wailing Wall, and many conservative Middle Eastern countries have in common? Two things: 1. they are popular tourist spots, and 2. they require visitors to keep their bodies respectfully covered.The whole pashmina-as-a-shawl thing can get pretty old, so why not plan some time in your next adventure to be totally free of judgments, inhibitions, social norms…and clothes?
Many cities have festivals (both ancient and new) that offer people the opportunity to strip down and wear whatever makes them comfortable…whether it’s jeans and a T-shirt or nothing at all, anything goes at these clothing-optional events. It sure makes packing a lot easier!
1. Hadaka Matsuri – all over Japan
The Hadaka Matsuri refers to a ton of mini-naked events that occur all over Japan throughout the month of January. Traditionally only men participate in Hadaka Matsuri, wearing pretty skimpy little numbers called “fundoshi’ (think Sumo Wrestler garb meets loin cloth), and these men must be pretty studly because temperatures in Japan in January can drop to around freezing. Although each event has its own history and focus, many events date back thousands of years to Shinto traditions and are supposed to bring good luck, honor the gods, and keep the participants’ families safe in the new year.
Image: Flickr filmmaker in japan
One of the most famous events is called Hadaka Mairi, aka the Naked Temple Visit, which is held in the first week of January in the northern province of Fukushima. Every year around 200 men parade through the streets of Yanaizu until they reach the Enazo-ji shrine. From there, they climb the 113 steps to the gate of the temple where the men purify themselves with icy water from a sacred trough. Once all the men have gathered, the temple bell rings, and they race into the main building and compete to climb a rope suspended from the ceiling. The first ones up ring a gong and then hoist themselves up to the rafters of the temple, yelling encouragements to the men who have yet to make it up.
Image: Spacious Planet
In another event, almost 30,000 people come together at the Konomiya shrine in the city of Inazawa to watch 10,000 men desperately try to lay their hands on a single, specially-chosen man, called the Shin-otoko, to bring their families prosperity in the new year. Although it may sound like a thankless job, it is a huge honor to be chosen as the Shin-otoko, and the man chosen has to undergo intense spiritual cleansing (including having all hair on his body shaved) before the event begins. The event goes like this: the Shin-otoko parades down a street on his way to the shrine, meanwhile the other 10,000 men are waiting along that street drinking hot sake to ward off the freezing cold. Even though the Shin-otoko is provided with body guards, he is attacked violently as he proceeds because the throngs of men are so desperate to touch him. And to top it all off, his bodyguards use buckets of freezing water to ward off overly-aggressive touchers. This event has been taking place for over 12 centuries.
Image: Flicker MatsuriTracker
2. Burning Man – Black Rock Desert, Nevada
This week-long event brings together an insanely diverse group of over 50,000 participants who come together in the Nevada desert to create a radical, experimental community full of social events and art installations. The festival’s 10 guiding principles are: radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. No money is allowed at Burning Man, and only a few things are sold there – participants are encouraged to barter and gift whatever they need during their week.
Image: Flickr mdanys
Clothing is optional, although the burning hot weather during the day discourages even the modest from wearing much at all. Most participants bring elaborate costumes, wear wigs, body paint, and whatever else best expresses themselves. ANYTHING goes here!
Image: Flicker Kaloozer
Other than art projects, Burning Man also encourages people to submit their plans for “mutant vehicles” to the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles) so that they can be approved to be brought on the grounds of the festival. Since cars are also not allowed and most people get around the huge festival area on bikes, mutant vehicles are the only mode of motorized transportation as far as the eye can see, adding to the already bizarre alien landscape of the dry desert.
Image: Flicker extramatic
And the week culminates with the burning of a 40-foot tall structure that is created in the shape of a person on the last night. People who visit the event say the heat from the fire is so scalding, it feels like the whole desert is on the brink of melting.
image: Flickr john curley
3. Boryeong Mud Festival- Daecheon Beath, South Korea
The Boryeong Mud Festival was originally created in 1998 as a marketing scheme to promote “mud cosmetics,” aka the mineral rich mud that washes up on the shores of Daecheon Beach. The advertising campaign was a total splash! In 2009, an estimated 80,000 people, mostly young adults from across the world, came to the beach to participate in events such as: The Mega Mud Tub, mud sliding, a mud prison and mud military training.
Image: Flickr Stinkey Pinkey
The participants wear as little clothing as possible, and not surprisingly, by the end of the day they are covered head to toe in the good-for-you mud.
Image: Flickr Stinky Pinkie
4. Love Parade – Berlin, Germany
The Love Parade originated in 1989 and was celebrated in West Berlin just months before the demolition of the Berlin Wall. It was originally held as a protest for understanding through love and music and created by Dr. Motte, a German DJ. Today the Love Parade draws over 1.4 million people from all over the world and features sets by some of the most famous DJs in the world. The blasting techno and house music and enthusiastic crowd turns the parade into a kind of gigantic rave.
Image: Flickr the4v3ry
Pretty much anything goes as far as outfits; many people don rave-esque attire, and at Love Parade less is definitely more. The event is so popular, Love Parades have been organized in other cities like Zurich, Vienna, Rotterdam, Sydney, Leeds and San Francisco.
Image: Flickr Bellicarchi, che FOTO
6. Bay to Breakers – San Francisco, California
Although many know Bay to Breakers as a wildly alternative and mostly nude San Francisco tradition, not many people know that the race actually holds the world record for oldest foot race with the same consecutive course. The first Bay to Breakers was held in 1912 to lift the spirits of San Franciscans after suffering the devastating 1906 earthquake. Around 60,000 people compete in the race in recent years, many of whom do not actually run the course but walk behind the runners in themed outfits (or themed lack of clothes), some in large groups or teams and some individually.
Another Bay to Breakers tradition is called “Centipedes”. Started in 1978 by members of the University of California Davis track team, Centipedes are a division of the race where 13 runners are connected as a single racing unit and have to run the race together.
6. World Body Painting Festival – Seeboden, Austria
The World Body Painting Festival has been held annually since 1998, and it has become the most comprehensive meeting place for body painting artists, teachers, and models. The first half of the week-long event combines workshops taught by master body painters and contests in categories like special effects and sponge and brush techniques; the second half consists of an actual festival event that is open to the public.
Image: Forum 12c9
Most of the models are volunteers and must spend many painstaking hours in uncomfortable positions before emerging as stunning works of art. The festival stipulates that all models must wear underwear, but almost all females go topless.
7. The Running of the Nudes – Pamplona, Spain
This festival was organized by PETA in 2002 to rally against the cruelty bulls experience during the Running of the Bulls and bullfighting in Pamplona. The run happens two days before the actual Running of the Bulls with the slogan, “Out with the old, in with the NUDE!”.
Participants dress in almost nothing but red handkerchiefs and plastic bull horns for the half mile run.
8. Kanamara Matsuri – Kawasaki, Japan
The name of this slightly bizarre festival translates to “Steel Phallus Festival” and is a Shinto fertility celebration held during the first week of April. The festival centers around a folk tale about a Japanese girl who has a sharp-toothed demon living inside her nether region! After she practically castrates multiple suitors, a magical blacksmith constructs a steel phallus that breaks the demon’s jaw and frees the girl from its tyranny.
Traditionally, the festival was popular among prostitutes from Kawasaki who would come to pray at penis-shrines in the city, hoping to gain protection against STDs. Today, Kanamara Matsuri is a kind of themed festival where almost everything imaginable is made in the shape of a phallus; candy, illustrations, carved vegetables and parade floats are made in its image. Although the main goal of the festival raises money for AIDS/HIV research and prevention in Japan, some traditional couples still come to be blessed with good luck in their marriage and with fertility.
Any clothing-optional festivals we left off of the list? Leave a comment!