In summer there are festivals everywhere in Japan, and we went to a very magical one this year: the Shigaraki Fire Festival! And we did more than just watch, we participated :-)!!
This beautiful festival takes place in a little village east of Osaka and Kyoto. The village is famous for its ceramics, and its history goes as far back as the 12th century (it may be Japan’s oldest pottery site). The woods surrounding the village are great for burning and therefor the place grew out to be a centre for ceramics.
Each year, around 700 people (mostly potters themselves) carry giant burning torches all the way up to the pottery shrine on a nearby mountain. It is said that doing this will bring good luck! This year, we and a group of friends had the chance to actually join in with the parade of torches and carry a burning torch ourselves up to the shrine and back! We arrived early at the shrine so we could pick out our torches.
A little practice for later that evening. Pretty heavy those torches!We had to wait for it to get dark for the ceremony to start, so to kill the time, we made a little detour to a beautiful hidden waterfall in the mountains of Shigaraki!
Wait what? Yes, one of our friends decided to get in the waterfall, and soon, more followed haha (Ward too!) After this refreshing dive we returned to the shrine to pick up our torches. As we were waiting for our turn, I was getting a liiiiittle nervous, seeing the giant fire blazes…
You wonder if this has ever gone wrong? Yet even little kids were carrying these huge torches :-oBut then we saw these guys….!! They’re not gonna light THAT are they??Yep, yep they are.See him go… Brave man, that one.This all was accompanied by the sounds of drums which made the atmosphere even more magical.And then it was finally our turn!! A liiittle scary….Ready? let’s go!!Follow the loooooong trail of burning torches all the way to the mountain, while people on both sides are cheering you on. Woooow!!The first part you walk through the village, but then you enter the mountain trail and you walk in a long row through a dense forest. Every couple of meters a fireman is spraying water on the trees and leaves so they don’t catch fire!As you slowly ascend, you can see the village lights below you through the trees, and in front of you see the trail of lights going up the mountain. It’s hard to describe how magical it was!!! After about 30 minutes we reached the shrine where there was a huuuuuge fire (reeealllly hot!)Some people threw in their torches, but we continued the trail down. As we descended, the fireworks started. If the first part wasn’t magical enough: Imagine walking through a dark forest only lit by a trail of fires in front of you, while you look out over beautiful fireworks exploding above ricefields. O, while hearing the sounds of drums :-). It’s absolutely amazing. After an hour of walking, we ended up at the center of the village where we threw our torches on a huuuuuuuuuge fire! There, we received a medal and a token for our efforts and we enjoyed a fantastic drum performance underneath huge fireworks! And with a huge bang, the festival came to an end.
This was one of the most magical experiences we had in Japan! It was so beautiful, not only the surroundings and the lights, but also the whole atmosphere. Wow.