Ohitaki Taisai is a Shinto ritual held at Tarobogu in Kowaki-cho, Omi City, Shiga Pref. on the first Sunday of December every year. Tarobogu, or formally named Aga Shrine, located on the mountainside of Mt. Akagamiyama (350 m) is said to have been founded about 1,400 years ago. It is also friendlily called “Tarobo-san” by the local people. Ohitaki Taisai is one of the largest fire festivals in Japan. 300,000 pieces of gomagi (holy wood) are thrown into the holy fire and burned as katashiro (body substitute) to purify the dedicators’ sins and impurities, which enable them to greet the New Year with refreshed mind. When the fire dies down, ascetic practitioners walking on the embers and then “Yamabushi Mondo (questions and responses about the lives of mountain practitioners) is performed. This is a traditional ritual known all over the country as a holy fire festival.
Okera-mairi is an annual event to celebrate the New Year at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. It begins on New Year's Eve and ends on the morning of New Year's Day.
The practise of Okera-mairi comes from the belief that, by bringing the holy fire of Yasaka home in the New Year and cooking a 'zoni' (vegetable soup with rice cakes in it) from that fire, one will have perfect health for the next year.
'Okera' is an asteraceous perennial, and its root was traditionally used as a gastrointestinal medicine in Chinese traditional medicine. It was also used as a charm to ward off evil spirits by feeding it into the flames. These beliefs and practices turned out to become today's Okera-mairi.
After the ceremony of the watch night on New Year's Eve, the holy fire is divided into five Okera lanterns by the hands of the Shinto priest. Each lantern comes with an 'Okera-gi', a piece of wood with a wish written on it. People bring the holy fire with the wishes back home by lighting a rope of twisted-bamboo.
The sight of the visitors returning home from Yasaka Shrine, spinning their rope to keep the fire alive is also a specialty of the Okera-mairi. Such a tradition today let's us see the continuation of ancient Japanese beliefs in the power of fire.
Saganoseki Cape in Oita Prefecture features a magnificent scenic spot known as Seki-zaki. The southern side of this spot, Kurogazaki, was selected as one of Japan's top 100 beaches.
Adding to the special atmosphere of this beach are the Bishago Sisters Rocks, two rocks linked by a rope. They are a symbol of Kurogazaki as well as famous for a legend about 'ama' (women divers). It is said that when the Kanmu Emperor was traveling east, Izanaginomikoto lost his holy sword in the sea. Isago and Masago, two sisters who were divers, retrieved the sword from a gigantic octopus. The nest day, a thunderstorm broke the rock into two. Ever since, the two sisters have been enshrined in each rock.
Sunrise on New Year's day is a popular time to come to this place, and many neighbors come at this time.
Omamori is a kind of amulet offered by shrines. 'Shinsatsu', another kind of amulet, comes with a small pouch that holds a sacred object called 'goshinji' inside it.
People carry omamori with them as an assurance that their wish will come true or as protection from misfortune. Shinsatsu are mainly used for family prayers, while omamori are more often used for individual prayer.
Because omamori are for one particular year only, they lose their power at the end of the year. In the New Year, they may assume a different spiritual power, so old omamori are purified to remove their souls and burnt at this time.
There are omamori for many purposes like safe driving, safe delivery, good luck in studies and exams, happiness in marriage, as well as strange ones, such as protection for pets or IT equipment.
Hagoita, or kogiita as they were known in olden times, were used as decorative battledores or presented as New Year gifts. Hagoita were believed to repel evil, and had connotations of healthy growth.
In the late Edo period, a Chinese technique called 'oshi' was first used for hagoita. A design is made, then cardboard is tacked against a board, which is covered with cloth to give a 3-d effect.
At that time, the merchant Edo culture had entered a mature stage with the creativity of ukiyo-e, woodblock prints of popular subjects. Like ukiyo-e, hagoita featured similar designs with portraits of Kabuki actors being very popular. At the annual year-end fairs in Edo, many people bought hagoita with portraits of popular actors.
Even today, beautiful hagoita make a popular gift to bring luck at New Year or to be presented as a special gift.
The main deity at Izumo Shrine in Shimane Prefecture, is known as the god of luck, peace, relationships, agriculture andmedicine. Within the grounds of the shrine, are structures built in the ‘shinkoden’ style, which means ‘luck from god’. They are two-storied and include the treasure hall, which exhibits treasures that prove the development of the Izumo Shrine. The main building, which is designated as a national treasure, is now 24m high, yet it is said that it was once twice the height, at 48m. Excavation in progress has proved this, with the discovery of a gigantic column on the site. On March 19, 2007, the Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo opened just beside the shrine and exhibits the original column of the main sanctuary. About 600,000 people visit the shrine during the first three days of the New Year