Shiofune Kannon Temple located in Shiofune, Ome City, Tokyo, is a Bekkaku-Honzan (the special headquarters) of the Daigo school of the Shingon sect. The main object of worship is Juichimen Senju Sengan Kanjizai Bosatsu (Bosatsu with 11 faces, 1,000 arms and 1,000 eyes). It is the 72nd of the Kanto 88 Holy Sites.
It is said that the temple was founded during the Taika era (645-650), when Yaobikuni, a legendary character who had eaten the flesh of mermaids to get immortality at age 17 and later became a nun, dropped in at this village and placed the Kannon statue here.
At the annual festival held on May 3 every year, the Saito Goma Fire ritual is performed. Torches are thrown into the huge goma stage set up in the center of the open space in the precinct, where a dozens of yamabushi (mountain practitioners) stand in a circle, chanting Shingon prayers to invite the main object of worship into the fire and pray for attainment of people’s wishes. Then the Hiwatari ritual is performed, in which some of the yamabushi with a sward in their hand run through the burning fire one after another, yelling with vigor. This is a very gallant and solemn religious event.
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.
It is said that this temple was founded in 794 by the priest Saicho, the founder of the Tendai sect of Buddhism, as the east gate of Hieizan Enryakuji Temple, which had been constructed 6 years before as the headquarters of the sect. When Emperor Kanmu visited the temple, he named it Hieizan Tomonin Moriyamadera, which means the temple guarding the east gate of Mt. Hiei.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), the temple was used as the lodge for Joseon Royal Embassies, the Joseon envoys intermittently sent to Tokugawa Shogunate of Japan. In 1986, the main hall and Kuri (the priests’ quarters) were burned down by a fire. The statue of Juichimen Kannon (Kannon with 11 faces) housed in the main hall was also destroyed by fire. The main hall was reconstructed and the statue was restored to its original form in 1990.
The statue of Fudo Myoo, which is the principal object of worship in Goma Hall and survived the fire undamaged, and the five-story stone pagoda in the corner of the precinct are designated as national Important Cultural Properties. Together with other art objects, they tell us of the temple’s 1,200 year history.
Kebesu Festival is a fire festival held at Iwakura Hachiman Shrine in Kunimi-machi, Kunisaki City, Oita Pref. on October 14. The origin of the word “kebesu” is not clear; some say it comes from a phrase in a norito (Shinto prayer) referring to “a boy who kicks fire.” On the festival night, the “Kebesu,” who is wearing a grotesque mask, walks around the precinct, hitting the stick called “Samasuta” with a fan and dashes toward the holy bonfire. Then some men called “Toba” in white costume try to guard the fire and repeatedly fight with Kebesu for fire. Toba run after the spectators with burning fern in their hands. It is said that if the sparks fall on you, you will be good in health throughout the year. The festival is designated as a prefecture’s Intangible Folk Cultural Property. This is one of the few unique festivals in Japan.
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.
Kamitera Fudoson Shokeiin is a temple of the Shingon sect of Buddhism. It was founded in 1591 by the priest Jitsuetsu.
In those days, there was a pine grove with old palm trees in the area around the temple, which was located between the Tajiri River and the Bijo River. Likening the buds coming out from the ground by the river to bamboo trees, Jitsuetsu said, “This is a very celebrated place, where pine, bamboo and palm trees grow together. I am going to build a temple for ridding people’s bud luck and bringing them better luck,” and named the temple “Baikozan Shokeiin,” which literally means “Pine Landscape Temple in Palm Light Mountain.”
The temple was called Kamitera (God’s Temple) because the ascetic training in the Shugendo method (mountain practice in which Shinto and Buddhism were mixed together) has been performed at this temple. Even after the Meiji period (1868-1912), when the movement of Haibutsu Kishaku (the anti-Buddhism movement) arose, the tradition of Shinbutsu Shugo (fusion of Shinto and Buddhism) has been uniquely handed down at this temple.
The principal image of worship, Kamitera Fudoson, is about 7 m tall and weighs 40 tons. It is the world’s largest clay statue. The statue is made of clay in which the ashes of 210,000 prayer sticks, which were burned for 21 days in the Goma fire kept burning by the priest who was observing a fast, were mixed.
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.
Nichirinji Temple was established by Priest Kukai about 1300 years ago. He sculpted himself the image of Juichimen Kannon (eleven-headed Kannon) and placed it as the main object of worship. Then he lit a holy fire to pray for the national prosperity and rich harvest in the morning and prayed for the souls of the dead in the evening. The temple was flourished as the ascetic training center of the northern Kanto and the southern Tohoku regions. In 989, it was counted as the 21st temple of Bando Kannon Pilgrimage. In 1880, the temple buildings were destroyed by a mountain fire, but the image of Kannon miraculously escaped damage. In 1915, the present temple buildings were built at the site where Kannon had been placed. From the observatory to the left of the main hall, you can see Mt. Fuji on a fine day. If you drive up the mountain for about 5 minutes, you will reach Yamizo Mine Shrine, which is said to have been established by Yamato Takeru.