On my “must do” list while in Japan is to attend a fire walking ceremony. Dina, her family, Dave and I signed up for the ITT trip to Mt. Takao and attend the fire-walking festival.
Here was the route on the bus from the main base in Yokosuka. It was just over an hour away by bus and about two hours away by train. The mountain has many hiking trails to reach the summit. For this trip, we wanted to get to the summit quickly in order to return to the Festival on time. So, we took the chair lift and then made a short walk to the top. I will tell you about our morning adventures in part 2. For now, let’s get to the fire-walking festival.
The Festival is held on the second Sunday in March. In Japanese it is called the Hiwatari-matsuri (Fire-walking festival). The yamabushi monks perform the ceremony for purification and as part of the training of Shugendo. Shugendo is a religion unique to Japan that mixes Buddhism and ancient mountain worship. The ceremony included many prayers and chanting as the monks prepare a sacred fire. The rituals to build the fire and embers are meant to cleanse misfortunes. The prayers said during the ceremony, are for world peace, longevity, protection from misfortune, traffic safety, and good health. To finalize the ceremony, the yamabushi monks walk through a path of smoldering embers. Spectators, regardless of their beliefs, are invited to walk across the embers as well. And we did!!
Here are a few pictures of the Festival. We arrived at the festival area about 45 minutes before it began in order to have a good view. The large square in the middle is where the fire will be built.
The head priest arrived a little after 1300. He is dressed in the purple robe. He had an attendant carrying the large parasol for him.
More monks continued to enter the ceremonial area.
After several speeches and prayers, the monks began the ritual of lighting the fire. One of the monks shot arrows into the crowd and then to the structure. The arrows create a barrier against evil.
The fire was spectacular!
Talk about a fire pit!
The monks rushed around with buckets of water to control the blaze and organize the ember pit. We could feel the heat of the fire from where we were standing!
Eventually, the ember pit was established.
Two monks, one either side, took bamboo stalks and dipped them in the urn of boiling water. He then proceeded to whip himself on his back! With hot boiling water for about a minute!!! What!?!
This again was an effort to build a barrier against evil. We all contemplated way those two were the ones who had to whip themselves. Did they draw the short straw, most junior, or maybe bad behavior!!
Next was the fire-walking! The monks and spectators lined up to walk across the embers.
And then it was our turn! There were a couple rules when inside the ceremonial area. Obviously, we were barefoot, no cameras, no hats and one monk instructed me to roll up my pants. Also, you step in salt mounds before and after walking across. The coals were cool by the time we walked across. However, we could feel the heat on our face.
It was yet another cultural event that provided insight to customs and rituals. It was really fun to watch and participate in the festival. Tomorrow, I will share with you our ride up Mt. Takao on the chair lift and the walk to the summit! Thanks for reading and I hope the pictures and videos load correctly.