Naked worship – どんと祭[Dontosai]

Every January 14th, we have a unique traditional event in Sendai, Miyagi.
It’s called “どんと祭(Dontosai)” .
It is similar to the “Fire Festival” held in various parts of Japan during the First Full Moon Festival, but what is different is that there is a “裸参り(Hadakamairi)” which can be “Naked worship” with translation.

What is 裸参り(Hadakamairi)?

It’s a traditional event in Sendai City, Miyagi. People visit a shrine with wearing only white fablic which is called “Sarashi”, and sandals or straw shoes.

※晒(Sarashi):The white part

So people visit a shine with a nearly naked style, that’s the reason it’s called “Hadaka (=Naked) mairi (=Worshiping)”. And the surprising thing is, this event is held during the coldest season of the year…!

Tracing the history, it began in the late 1840s.
A person who work for sake brewery in the Sendai started worshiping in this way to pray for good sake and safety before the cold preparation.

The method of worship is described like this.

Wear a white headband, wrap yourself in a white bleached cloth, wear white tabi (Japanese styled socks) and sandals (or straw shoes).

And take really cold water to clean yourself, and then hold a piece of paper called “含み紙 Fukumi gami (kami)” in your mouth to prevent breathing on the Deity. Then, walk to the shrine to worship with holding the bell on your right hand, a lantern on your left. And then, walk around the deified fire, and warm yourself at the fire.

I know the shinto culture little bit, so I understand people clean theirselves with water, but in midwinter…! And it’s began more than 100 years ago, So Sendai should be much colder than it is now.

The temperature at that time

So I looked it up. I actually couldn’t find the data of 1850, but found the data of January 1927. Perhaps it’s really close to this temperature around 1850.

the average temperature is “-0.6 ℃ (30.92°F)” and the average minimum temperature is “-4.7 ℃ (19.4°F)” .
Considering walking after taking the ice water, I’m sure it’d feel like much more colder.

Current naked worship

The tradition was started at “Osaki Hachimangu shrine” in Sendai, led to the spread of Sendai naked worship.
Since the 1960s, groups unrelated to the sake brewing industry have also participated, and now any groups or volunteers can participate in it. And many places don’t do the “taking ice water” step anymore considerating health issues.
Also, there are many places to carry out health examinations.

I have never experienced it. And I’m good enough to just watch it. haha
I’ve seen children participating, that was surprising.
But some people live with only T-shirts and shorts even during winter, so maybe it’s not too cold for some of them…?
The truth can only be understood by those who have experienced it.

If you would like to participate, just search and find the place for the next year!

The largest Donto festival in Miyagi prefecture

Donto-sai is the event to pray for “sickness-free breathing and family safety” by warming yourself at the denitied fire.
It is said that the largest scaled Donto-sai is [Matsutaki Festival] held at “Osaki Hachimangu”, which the naked worship culture was born.
It has a history of more than 300 years, and it was registered as an intangible folk cultural property in 2005.

Donto Festival is now held in various parts of Miyagi prefecture, but if you want to feel the history more, I recommend this place.

If you want to know more, please also visit the official website.

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