Friday, March 14, 2008

Takaosan Fire Walking Festival

I went to a festival at Mt. Takao. This festival is performed by the mountain priests. The highlight is a massive bonfire. After the fire, the priests walk barefoot across the hot ashes.

高尾山 の 祭り に 行きました。 その祭り は 
山伏 しました。 大事 の 出来事 は 大火 でした。 後で、山伏 は 足 で 灰 横切りました。

"Hiwatari (fire crossing) is a longstanding and traditional ritual that has been practiced annually in Mt. Takao. The ritual is offered to Izuna-daigongen, the principle image of the mountain, to relieve worshipers and general public. It is the most representative religious austerities of Shingon Buddhism to pray for world peace, perfect state of health, safety of household and longevity by burning “goma” wood. Mountain priests trained in mind and body walk on fire barefoot. General participants also can join this ritual."
- found on the internet.

I've been to Takaosan a few times before. It's the closest place from Tokyo where one can actually hike in nature. Yes, there is a rope way and a cable car that take you to the top, but if you take a different trail, you are amongst trees and birds and what not.

But today wasn't for a hike, it was for a fire-walking festival.

There was a lot of ceremony... and a lot of foreigners. Even a foreigner priest was in on the fun.

So there is this massive pile of evergreen trimmings.

The pile is then accosted with weapons of all sorts. First a guy with a big ax started screaming and swinging and kicking some inanimate ass. Next the dude with katanas comes out. Finally homeboy goes to each of the corners and shoots arrows at it.

They say, "Hey pile of branches, can you stand the heat?" Then the priest splashes himself with boiling water. Just to prove that he's hardcore.

Weapon damage done, and humility applied, the burning begins.

The green hits everyone downwind with some yellow-orange smoke. Since it's almost spring, everyone in Japan has face masks on, so it's all good. Go ahead and breathe deep.

Once the smoke dies down, the fire rages.

Priests take turns getting close and throwing buckets of water on it. From my vantage point, the heat is a little painful. The guys right next to it must be hurting.

People had written their prayers on wooden boards. These are thrown in the fire. Pretty much any wooden thing that you write prayers or wishes on at temples and shrines in Japan will eventually be burned in a ceremony.

Once the fire dies down, it's spread out and the priests walk across the ashes.

Look at this guy's goofy grin. I love it!

The general public can now do it. I thought only a few would. I thought wrong.

EVERYONE got in on the fun. Old ladies and little kids were walking through the burning ashes.

Stand in the salt to get pure.

Aren't my feet pretty?

Then you walk across and receive blessings of sorts. Quite a unique festival, and I found that fire is really interesting to photograph.


kao said...

Things are destructible in our culture. Even architecture is so. And soul is forever. That's very important.

Anonymous said...

I think the priests are 山伏 (yamabushi) which means mountain priests.