Recap: Mt. Takao Firewalking Festival

This post is a little late in coming, because I put up the video first and subsequently became lazy about blogging it.  Apologies.  Here’s the written recap of the event.

On Sunday, March 14th, 2010, I attended the Takaosan Hiwatari Matsuri, or Mt. Takao Firewalking festival.  This is a festival held at the base of Mt. Takao to pray for world peace and do some firewalking.  I arrived about 15 minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to begin and checked out the surrounding area a little bit.  This is a shrine near where the event was held.

The main event of the ceremony is to burn a huge leafy pile, rake the coals into lanes, and have everyone in attendance walk across them.  This is the pile pre-fire.

At the beginning of the ceremony, the mountain priests head to the shrine to chant and pray before heading into the square with the giant grass pile.

After a considerable amount of time performing repetitive chants, blessings, and displays of symbolic weapons, the pile is lit with a couple of torches.  It smokes for a bit, then goes up in flames.  I felt the heat from where I was standing on the hill – I can only imagine what the priests on the ground down there were feeling.

Once all the material has burned, the fire is raked into two lanes for everyone to walk across.

The priests bless the lanes (at least, I’m guessing that’s what they were doing with their emphatic tree-branch-waving and low muttering), and they walk across first.

After that, all of us lesser, common folk get the chance to give things a shot.  Should you choose to do this, you’ll remove your shoes, roll up the legs of your pants, stick your feet in some salt, walk across the coals, stick your feet in more salt, get a blessing from a priest, and be done.

I enjoyed the experience.  I came away from things smelling like a campfire and I don’t really feel much more peaceful or enlightened despite my treacherous (NOT) coal walking adventure, but I was glad I went.  The coals were only really warm when I walked across them – not hot.  True to the form of Japanese ceremonies, the event was long.  It was about an hour and a half to two hours before the coal walking actually began, and I had to wait around 45 minutes for my turn (which took all of 15 seconds).  This is one event I’d recommend watching the video for the full effect.

In other news, classes are going great and I’m really enjoying myself!  The weather is growing more warm and amazing by the day, and I can’t be happier with life at the moment.  In my days off I’ve been sampling food, catching up with fantastic people, and enjoying the sunshine.  I’m re-discovering my inner musical nerd and am loading up on history and theory.  There’s nothing I can complain about and I hope it stays this way!  Hope you’re all having a fantastic spring (or autumn, wherever you are)!

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4 Responses to Recap: Mt. Takao Firewalking Festival

  1. Gram says:

    Hi Alisha
    Nice to see you on skype Friday night. Too bad you did not see your brothers new hair-do. Hope your dad does not get any ideas…… I dropped your parents off at San Diego airport yeterday for their short flight to Las Vegas where they will celebrate your mom’s birtheday. We had spectacular weather while they were here and I hated to see them go.
    So glad you are having a great time back in Tokyo, you are building life time memories. Love You, Gram

  2. Steve says:

    Looking forward to seeing the video in a bit! Glad you had such an awesome time there!

  3. Mom says:

    I know I say it all the time, but, I am the luckiest Mother to have such outstanding children. Keep up the great smile and enjoy every moment of your life, that is the way to do it girl!

    I love you, Masha

  4. Hiko says:

    Takao was my first home in Tokyo, but I never went to this festival.

    I remember staying at a friend’s house in Ura-Takao near Mt Takao, and hearing the local dialect. I speak Japanese pretty well and tend to cope reasonably with remote dialects of Japanese, but I honestly had no idea what the mother was saying to me at times. Even though it is still Tokyo prefecture, true locals out that way speak with an accent similar to rural Aichi-ben.

    It was cool to meet briefly at the hanami – I’m sorry there wasn’t a proper chance to chat, but hopefully there will be another get together soon. Love the blogs!


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