One day a year, visitors to the Saishōji Temple in Ashikaga are invited to shed their stoicism and politeness for a night of cathartic cursing. At the akutare matsuri (“rowdiness festival”), also called akutai matsuri (“festival of abusive language”), held annually on New Year’s Eve, hundreds of worshippers make the forty-minute trek up the mountain to the temple, shouting insults and epithets along the way. Although all potential targets of these insults are fair game, the curses themselves are typically mild, especially by Strong Language standards. The insult of choice is usually “bakayarō!”—loosely translated to “you idiot!”
At about 11 pm, the group is led up the path by a man blowing a horagai, or conch, to ward off evil. When they reach the summit, they ring the temple bell, and, at the stroke of midnight, after cries of “Happy New Year!”, worshippers take part in a final ceremony in which they declare their wishes for the year and a priest pours sake on their foreheads. The wine trickles down their faces—symbolizing the joy that will flow in the year ahead—and into bowls they hold under their chins, from which they drink it up.
The event at Ashikaga is one of several akutai matsuri that take place through December and January. These festivals began more than two centuries ago, during the Edo period, as a way of letting overworked, long-suffering factory workers—many of them women recruited from the countryside to make material for kimonos—vent pent-up frustrations.
On the third Sunday of December, worshippers follow thirteen people dressed as tengu—red-faced mountain goblins—up Mount Atago to the Atago Shrine, cursing as they go. On the way up, the tengu make offerings at eighteen smaller shrines, and visitors hurl insults as they try to grab the offerings, which are said to bring good luck. Once they reach the Atago Shrine, they receive a blessing from a Shinto priest, and the tengu throw rice cakes into the crowd.
If, after two festivals in December, you’re still jonesing to swear once you ring in the new year, head over to the akutai matsuri at Haushiwake Shrine in Yasawagi on January 5, where worshippers have an insult-off, taking turns berating one another. The winners (though I can’t find information on who decides this—does anyone know?) are supposedly blessed with good fortune for the rest of the year.
All this is to say, happy fucking new year, you shit-gargling ass-cunts! From your grateful friends at Strong Language, where every day is a festival of profanity.