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Hokkaido ritual sees half-naked men douse themselves in cold water on freezing night

Four men purify themselves with cold water at a ritual to pray for bountiful fishing hauls and harvests at Samegawa Shrine, in the town of Kikonai, Hokkaido, on a freezing night on Jan. 14, 2021. (Mainichi/Kohei Shinkai)

KIKONAI, Hokkaido -- On the freezing night of Jan. 14, four half-naked young men doused themselves with cold water as part of a traditional ritual at a shrine in this town in Japan's northernmost prefecture.

    Referred to as a form of grueling training, the ritual is part of the 190-year-old "Kanchu Misogi Matsuri" festival to pray for bountiful fishing hauls and harvests. At the Samegawa Shrine grounds at around 7 p.m., when temperatures crossed the threshold below 0 degrees Celsius, the men shouted out and purified their bodies with the cold water.

    To prevent coronavirus infections, this year's festival was shortened from three days to two. The event is said to date back to 1831, when the shrine attendant at the time followed the instructions of a dream they had and washed objects of worship in the sea, which turned out to bring a good harvest.

    (Japanese original by Kohei Shinkai, Hokkaido News Department)

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