Mt. Takao’s Fire Festival: Flow of the Venue and Ritual.



Takaosan Yakuo-in Temple holds the Fire Festival on the second Sunday of March every year.
This is a public event surrounding Mt. Takao’s traditional Fire Walking Ritual. It is a big event with a tall, brightly burning bonfire.

The venue is a parking lot that is converted each year for the event.
I arrived at the venue about 20 minutes before the start time of 1:00 pm, but the venue was already full of people.

Before the ritual begins. Japanese cypress leaves stacked upon the bonfire.

After the monks have crossed the fire, general participants can cross over the still glowing embers, but the line is usually quite long.
If you choose to wait in line, you will not be able to see the ceremony, so this time we decided not to line up and looked on from the hill next to the venue.
After the monks have crossed the fire, general participants can cross over the embers, but the line is already quite long.
If I line up in a row, you will not be able to see the ritual, so this time, I decided not to line up and looked from the hill next to the venue.

Long lines extend all the way to the hills.

At 13 o’clock, you can hear the sound of the trumpet blown from a distance.
However, because the way to the venue is long the Yamabushi (monks) do not arrive in the venue until around 13:30.

Yamabushi coming into the venue.

Yamabushi and others will enter the venue with Mikoshi (a portable shrine) filled with many amulets called the “Bonten-fuda”. You can buy one of these amulets for 500 yen after the ceremony.

After entering, the monks will conduct a ritual  for about 40 minutes before igniting the bonfire.
The ritual depicts the story of a hero slaying a demon with a sword.

Here the hero battles the demon
Arrows are released in every directions to prevent the demons from entering.

The ceremonies carried a certain weight and I was interested in them, but my children who came with me seemed to get bored a little. There were many other families, but every family seemed to have a similar situation.
When you go with your children, you should be prepared for a long ritual.
There are food stalls stocked with yakisoba and buttered potato in the venue, so it might be good for children to enjoy a meal before the ceremony.

Now, at around 2:10, they will finally ignite the bonfire.
From both sides of a pile of Japanese cypress leaves, the Yamabushi light the pile of leaves with long lit bamboo sticks.

Ignition of the bonfire with long bamboo sticks.

Once ignited, a huge amount of smoke rises immediately.
I was downwind and I couldn’t see anything around me thanks to the smoke.
All my clothes soon all my clothes became smokey. It may be better not to go with good clothes.

In the smoke, the Yamabushi carry their Mikoshi.
While the fire burns vigorously.
With the momentum of fire, smoke rises in a whirl like a dragon.

After burning for about 20 minutes, the Yamabushi and others will sprinkle water and stir the coals to create a road for firewalking.

The Yamabushi stir heroically with a long stick.

Meanwhile, a ritual to cleanse themselves with boiling water begins.
The Yamabushi, strip to the waist, carry hot water on a tree branch with leaves.
It looks like they’re about to jump into the hot seat.

Hot water splashes soar.

And now the firewalk will finally begin. Before the firewalk, Yamabushi recites the purpose of the firewalking through a microphone.

Recitation of the purpose of firewalking.

When the reading was over, the head Yamabushi began to cross the fire vigorously.
In this context the firewalking symbolizes the practice of surrendering yourself the demons, annoyances, and enemies to arrive on the other-side more peaceful.

The Yamabushi cross the fire!

Following the Yamabushi, general participants will also start crossing the fire.
Those who cross first side must have come very early considering the length of the line.

Following the Yamabushi, the general participants are allowed to walk.
General participants go barefoot and carry their shoes.

I wanted to walk on the fire, but my children got bored and unfortunately I couldn’t participate.
If I were to line up after the ritual, it seemed that I would have had to stand in line for about an hour.
For this reason, if you want to walk on the fire, you should be prepared to line up.

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