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.
The Hiwatari ritual is performed as a part of Tenjin Festival held on February 25 every year at Sugahara Shrine in Yasu City, Shiga Prefecture. The ritual has been performed to pray for prosperity and good health in the new year on the lunar calendar, which has begun at around the beginning of February. It marked the 30th anniversary in 2007.
In a Hiwatari ritual, mountain practitioners and worshippers walk through the burning fire to purify themselves and bring good luck. The Hiwatari ritual at Sugahara Shrine is one of the rare cases in that it is performed at a Shinto shrine, for Hiwatari is usually performed at Buddhist temples in Japan.
After the goma stage is purified with a sword and an arrow is shot in hope of the god’s guard, mountain practitioners throw torches into the huge goma stage built up of more than 10,000 wooden tablets inscribed with wishes. Then a set of purification rites are performed in front of the holy fire.
When the fire burns down and coals are flattened into a 3 square meter stretch, the mountain practitioners start to walk on the burning ashes. After that, general worshippers walk on the ashes.
Carefully walking on the burning ashes, fire walkers have a piece of paper called “Ashigatafu (footprint paper)” in their hands. After completing the toasty walk, they apply Japanese ink on the bottom of their foot and press it on the footprint paper. It is said that, if you put up your footprint talisman on the wall of your bedroom, your wish will be fulfilled.
This festival is held at Oyama Shrine in Fuse on Oki-Dogo Island in Shimane Prefecture on the first Day of Ox in April every year. The origin of the shrine is not clear. It has no shrine pavilion housing the deity but it enshrines the old cedar tree, which is some hundred years old.
It is said that Oyama Shrine Festival was first held by a mountain practitioner hundreds of years ago. According to the historical record of the festival written in 1825 by a mountain practitioner in Fuse village, it seems that the festival had already been performed hundreds of years before.
Locally called “Oyama-san” or “Yama-matsuri,” the festival is the event that tells people of the coming of spring. It is nationally designated as an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.
On the day before the festival, villagers perform the ritual called Obitachi-no-shinji (the belt cutting ritual), in which they go into the nearby mountain to cut out vine stems, which are put around the sacred cedar tree, and parade through the village carrying a large sakaki (a holy branch). On the following festival day, the Obishime-no-shinji (fastening belt) ritual is held, in which the vine stem is put around the sacred tree seven and a half times.
Kumano Hongusha Shrine in Takadate, Natori City, Miyagi Prefecture, is a shrine associated with Kumano Worship. What is called Kumano Worship is the faith in Kumano Sanzan, a set of three Grand Shrines located in the southeastern part of the Kii Mountain Range in Wakayama Prefecture; Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Hayatama Taisha and Kumano Nachi Taisha. It had spread all over the country in the late Heian period and onward.
Kumano Shrines have become located in various parts of Japan as Kumano Worship spread in the country; however, Natori is the only the place that has three Kumano Grand Shrines. It is said that in the late Heian period, a mountain practitioner visited an old shrine priestess in Natori and passed on a message from Kumano Gongen, the deity of Kumano Sanzan. To hear this, she decided to found the three Kumano Great shrines in Natori in 1123.
Comparing Mt. Takadate (Mt. Natori) to the Kumano Mountains, the Natori River to the Kumano River and Sendai Bay to the Kumanonada Sea, Natori Kumano Sanzan has become the largest-scaled sacred site of Kumano Worship in the Tohoku region.
Kumano Hongusha Shrine is located in the northernmost of the three shrines. Honden (the main hall) is a stately building with a Kokera-buki (thin wooden shingles) roof.
A Deer Dance, which is designated as an intangible cultural property of Natori City, has been handed down at this shrine. It is a traditional dance, in which dancers wear a deer head and carry the red and the yellow flags on their backs. The name of the shrine is written on the red flag, while the four-character idiom of kanji meaning “Hope for a rich harvest” is written on the yellow one.
Fire Festival held at Matsuzawayama Komyoin Temple in Marumori Town, Miyagi Prefecture, is a festival that brings the tradition of Shugendo to the present day. Marumori Town is located in the southernmost part of Miyagi Prefecture. The town is surrounded by the Abukuma mountains and blessed with bountiful nature. This quiet town boasts a lot of historical and cultural heritage.
The fire festival held at Komyoin Temple on April 29 every year is a Shugendo ritual, in which mountain practitioners and worshippers walk through the burning fire to purify their sins, evil deeds, diseases and bad luck. The ritual is said to have been introduced by the mountain practitioners in Mt. Chokai.
When the sun set in the evening, the Goma fire stage built at the center of the purified zone is set on fire and glowing flames blaze up into the night sky. The Goma fire is surrounded by mountain practitioners, who sit still and chant mantras.
When the fire burns down and ashes are flattened, the mountain practitioners start to walk on the burning ashes. After that, general worshippers walk on the ashes. As it is dangerous, they walk in complete seriousness.
Kosenji Temple in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture, is an historic temple pertaining to the Taira clan. In 1321, after the fall of the Taira clan, a descendant of Taira no Shigemori, known as Komatsu Naidaijin (Inner Minister), disguised himself as a mountain practitioner and came to this village, escaping from his enemies. He founded a temple named Komatsu-dera Temple, where he placed the statue of Amida Nyorai, which was his family’s guardian Buddha, and held memorial services for his deceased ancestors. Later, the temple was changed its name to Kosenji Temple.
The principal object of worship, the statue of Amida Nyorai, was presented to Shigemori by the temple in Auyung in present Ningbo City in China, and treasured as the guardian of the family. After it was enshrined at this temple, it has been named Komatsu Nyorai after Shigemori, and worshipped by local people.
The temple possesses a lot of cultural properties such as the statue of Idatenjin, the Jizo statue carved by Kaikei and the 12 ancestral tablets including the one for Shigemori, which make us think of the rise and fall of the Taira clan, who once ruled the country.
Mt Gessan is one of the three mountains in the Dewa Sanzan group, and is located in Tagawa, Yamagata prefecture.
Mt Gessan is 1984m high and stands almost in the middle of Yamagata prefecture. It lies in the northern part of Bandai Asahi National Park and is a treasure house of nature that includes animals, plants and primary forest like beech.
The name of Gessan ('moon mountain') derives from the fact that it appears to be as enormous as a half-moon. The mountain has always been linked to religion and there is a shrine at the top dedicated to Tsukuyomi-no-mikoto, a brother of the goddess Amaterasu-omikami.
The mountain has also been a place for ascetic training. Many practitioners have visited here to worship Gessan-okami, but most of them have not felt ready enough and have gone back. Their route back is still known as the 'Return of Practitioners' although hikers take this road today. Mt. Gessan is a spiritual mountain with great views and alpine plants.
Tengu Garden features scenery in which the legend of the long-nosed Tengu goblin might well come true. It is a plain that small Tengu might have flown around to mountainous areas. One can imagine a Tengu playing in this area.
In autumn, the red foliage becomes very beautiful. One can enjoy the scenery by driving along the Bandai Azuma Skyline road. There are yellow leaves of Betula ermanii and red leaves of maple and azalea beside the former road. The leaves are not only beautiful in autumn, but also in summer, when they are an extreme green.
The mysterious feeling of Tengu flying in the skies around here can be felt in one's bones in this 'special' area.