Tokyobling's Blog

Mount Takao Fire Walking Festival

Posted in Japanese Traditions, People, Places by tokyobling on March 12, 2014

The third and final part of the grand Hiwatari Matsuri, or fire walking festival, at Tokyo’s holy Mount Takao last weekend. After having spent quite some time trying to contain the fire and dousing it with clear water and burning the votive sticks, the shugenja would line up for the final fire walking test. Before that two of them would take part in a ritual cleanings ceremony involving showering themself with near boiling water which they beat out of cauldron with a bundle of tree branches. After that the shugenja and lay followers of the shugendo sect would start the fire walking, first stepping on a mound of pure white salt which has a further purification symbolism.

There were several shugenja performing the ceremony and when they were done they took up positions around the dojo to chant prayers while the ordinary people started the fire walking. In the last photo you can see the what it all looked like after several hours into the ceremony. The line snaking around the dojo continued up onto the hill where I took the photo, went around the hill and down onto the other side. By the time normal people get to do the fire walking any remaining embers would have died out and there should be barely any heat left at all. The significance in the ceremony is not the physical challenge though, it is the ritual purification that is the important part. I didn’t stay to see all the ordinary folks performing the ceremony but the shugenja must have spent many hours of continuos chanting and drumming!

Standing so close to many shugenja (a rare treat!) gave me a grand opportunity to take plenty of photos of their gear close up. I have included some of the photos in this post.


10 Responses

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  1. Shelli@howsitgoingeh? said, on March 12, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Oh I love the picture with the young shugenja helping little obaa-chan shugenja over the hot coals!!! So cute! And love the details of the shugenja gear. I wonder what the guy has written all over his kimono top? Prayers?


    • tokyobling said, on March 13, 2014 at 12:28 am

      Haha… yes! There were other good photos of them holding hands and even helping carrying scared little kids. By the time ordinary people got to it there was very little heat left though, quite safe! I was wondering about their costumes as well, sometimes in Japan people will sew on patches like this after completing religious pilgrimages or spiritual quests. I am guessing these participants are very experienced!


  2. Jonelle Patrick said, on March 12, 2014 at 11:15 pm

    Thank you for such an excellent explanation of the many elements of that ceremony – I feel that I ought to go again next year, now that I can appreciate what’s going on. As always, all your photos are stunning, but I especially wish I’d taken the one of the guy and the cauldron, with the bamboo switch raining boiling water!


    • tokyobling said, on March 13, 2014 at 12:30 am

      Thank you for the kind comment Jonelle! Yes the switches were great. The shugenja close to us actually made a point of warning us of the chance that there would be boiling water flung in our direction soon but unfortunately we didn’t get one drop… (^-^;)


  3. […] mystery series, published by Penguin/Intermix. More really fantastic photos of this ceremony on Tokyobling’s blog – there are three separate posts, all with photos worth seeing, so scroll through them […]


  4. Timi said, on March 18, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Walking on fire has a tradition even here, with probably the same meaning – purification, and reaching a state of mind. The only problem is, that recently there are not many who would be able to do this (without having burn their feet..), which is sad since it shows how much people differ from our ancestors:( (and not in a good way)


    • tokyobling said, on March 26, 2014 at 12:52 am

      I think Japan is moving in the right direction, in recent years more and more people are discovering their roots and returning to the old ways of Japan and refusing to participate in consumeristic western culture. I am very hopeful about the future of Japan!


  5. The Wilkys said, on March 4, 2015 at 1:44 am

    Thank you very much for this blog post! Great photos! I will be going here this Sunday to witness this festival. You mentioned that you had a very good spot for picture taking. How did you manage to get a good spot? Did you arrived very early? I wanted to take some good photos too and share them to my blog. 😉 Any tips is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much!


    • tokyobling said, on March 5, 2015 at 12:39 am

      Well, I recommend going there as early as possible, I was there two hours in advance. Stick to the other photographers and you will be bound to get a good spot. There is no perfect spot, it depends on the weather and what part of the ceremony, the angle you want to get, and what kind of camera you have. No one photographer can get everything that goes on! It will be cold though! Good luck!


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