Fukuoka’s Hottest Winter Fire Festival: Exorcising Evil Spirits with Gigantic Torches
In the city of Fukuoka, japan, there is a 1,600-year-old ceremony known as the Oniyo Fire Festival. This festival is held in early January in Daizenji, a small town near Fukuoka. It is considered to be one of Japan’s three most important fire festivals and is recognized as an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. The festival is known for its sheer scale and the breathtaking sight of gigantic torches being lit and pulled around by groups of men. In this article, we will explore the history and significance of the Oniyo Fire Festival, as well as the unique traditions and rituals associated with it.
The Origins of the Oniyo Fire Festival
The Oniyo Fire Festival has a rich history that dates back centuries. It is believed to have originated as a way to exorcise evil spirits and bring good fortune to the community. In ancient times, people believed that evil spirits roamed the earth during the winter months, causing havoc and misfortune. To protect themselves and their loved ones, the people of Daizenji began the tradition of lighting enormous torches and parading them around the town. The light and heat generated by the torches were believed to ward off the evil spirits and usher in a prosperous new year.
The Enormous Torch Procession
The climax of the Oniyo Fire Festival is the lighting of the six enormous torches. These torches, each measuring around 13 meters in length, are built by the six neighborhoods around Daizenji Shrine. They are made of bamboo and can weigh up to 1,200 kilograms each. The process of lighting the torches is a highly anticipated moment during the festival. After a seven-day period in which the fire is lit and closely guarded, the “devil fire” is transferred by a procession to the torches. The procession consists of men dressed in traditional loincloths, who carry the fire from the sacred shrine to the torches. This symbolic act represents the transfer of spiritual energy from the shrine to the torches, which will then be used to exorcise the evil spirits.
The Torch Pulling Ritual
Once the torches are lit, the men pull them around the grounds of Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine. This ritual is not only physically demanding but also carries deep spiritual significance. The act of pulling the torches is believed to symbolize the driving away of evil spirits and the purification of the land. As the men pull the torches, sparks and embers fly into the air, creating a mesmerizing spectacle. It is said that if one of these sparks or embers falls on you, it brings good luck. However, it is essential to watch out for falling sparks and embers, as they can still cause burns.
The Participants and Their Attire
The participants in the Oniyo Fire Festival are clad only in loincloths, despite the freezing temperatures in early January. This is a testament to their dedication and the significance they attach to the festival. The heat generated by the torches provides some respite from the cold, but it is still an arduous task to endure the chilly weather while pulling the torches. The participants take great pride in their role and consider it an honor to be part of this ancient tradition.
The Role of Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine
Daizenji Tamataregu Shrine plays a central role in the Oniyo Fire Festival. The shrine is located in Daizenji-machi, Kurume-shi, Fukuoka-ken, and is accessible by train and a short walk. It is a sacred place where the community gathers to pay their respects and seek blessings. During the festival, the shrine becomes the focal point of the torch procession, with the torches being pulled around its grounds. The shrine is a testament to the deep-rooted spiritual beliefs of the people of Daizenji and their commitment to preserving their cultural heritage.
The Significance of the Oniyo Fire Festival
The Oniyo Fire Festival is not just a grand spectacle; it holds deep cultural and spiritual significance for the people of Fukuoka. The festival is a way for the community to come together and celebrate their shared history and traditions. It serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving cultural heritage and passing it on to future generations. The festival also reflects the resilience and determination of the people of Daizenji, who have continued to uphold this ancient tradition despite the challenges they face.
The Oniyo Fire Festival in Fukuoka is a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Japan. This 1,600-year-old ceremony brings together the community to exorcise evil spirits and welcome a prosperous new year. The sight of the enormous torches being lit and pulled around by groups of men is both awe-inspiring and humbling. The festival serves as a reminder of the power of tradition and the importance of coming together as a community. If you ever have the opportunity to witness the Oniyo Fire Festival, it is an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.
Address And Maps Location:
1463-1 Miyamoto, Daizenji-machi, Kurume-shi, Fukuoka-ken