Sai Dai Ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri is a popular festival in Japan. Kurt, an expat there had the chance to document the event and I sent him a few questions.
Kurt, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Kurt K Gledhill, I was born and raised in Yorkshire, north England. I moved to Okayama, Japan almost 5 years ago now and I love it here. I started photography about 4 years ago mainly shooting the tourist travel snaps, anything and everything, and it wasn't long before I became addicted to it.
In my 4 years of photography I have experimented with all different styles, landscape, portrait, events, HDR, etc but it was recently when I fell in love with black and white.
Where was this project shot?
This project was shot in a small town very close to my home, Saidaiji, Okayama.
What is it about?
The festival is called “Hadaka Matsuri” (naked man festival) Basically it's a traditional, annual festival that dates back many years. Over 9000 men take part and another 10,000 people come to spectate. The men wear nothing but a loin cloth and a smile and pack into a temple shouting “washoi, washoi” ( it's like a “come on!” chant).
A monk throws a piece of holy, religious wood into the crowd of naked men and whoever gets the wood out of the temple gets blessings and is said to have good luck throughout the year. As you can imagine it gets quite dangerous and competitive!
What gear did you use?
I used to shoot Nikon, but I recently switched to Fujifilm. I now use the Fuji X100s and the X20. Selling all my DSLR gear and making the switch was the best thing for my photography. The X series Fujifilm's are simply superb!
Why did you want to shoot it?
I always want to shoot it because it's so photo genetic, it's like stepping back in time. It's such a unique and rare event. So many people, so many expressions, so many feelings and emotions! It's impossible for any photographer not to shoot it if they saw it.
What were you trying to show?
I am trying to document it from the point of view of a foreigner. I'm trying to capture the event below the surface, the raw, gritty side of the festival. I'm trying to capture the emotion and excitement. I am trying to make the viewer feel as if they were there.
How were you and your camera received? They are almost completely naked after all!
The people are surprisingly welcoming. When they see a photographer they shout louder, gesture harder.
They are in a different frame of mind when it's festival time. Being naked in public sounds daunting to a foreigner but the Japanese have been doing it for years with the onsen (hot springs) etc, so they feel more relaxed about it I guess.
Any anecdotes you can share?
There are no particular anecdotes that stick out to be honest, the entire night, the entire event seems to be one big anecdote. I can only advise anyone visiting Japan in February must go and see for themselves. It is an experience!
Any closing comments?
I think photography is a craft, it's an art form just like music, and if you don't practice your craft every day you will never improve. Imagine a musician playing guitar. The more he plays and practices the better he gets.
Same with photography, anyone can pick up a camera and take a photo and sometimes maybe capture something amazing, but if you want to improve and move up to the next level, you need to practice everyday.
Learn your camera, practice composition, practice different styles of photography, practice seeing things other people don't see. Have fun! Thank you very much and I hope you enjoyed my images.
For more of Kurt's work, please check out his website