The Oniyo Fire Festival is a 1,600-year-old ceremony to exorcise evil spirits. The sheer scale of the festival, held in early January in Daizenji near Fukuoka, is astounding. The climax comes when six enormous torches are lit, and men climb them and dance in a seemingly mad frenzy.
The festival is one of Japan’s three most important fire festivals and has been made a declared an Important Intangible Folk Cultural Asset.
- Seeing the torches lite, each around 13 meters long
- Watching out for falling ash and embers, which are considered lucky but can still burn
- The six torches are built and maintained by the six neighborhoods around Daizenji Shrine
- The torches are made of bamboo and weigh up to 1200 kilograms each
Lighting the “devil fire”
This historic festival is an extremely hot tradition. After a seven-day period in which the fire is lit and then closely guarded, the “devil fire” is transferred by a procession to six enormous torches, each around 13 meters long.
These torches are then carried around the grounds of Daizenji Tamatare-gu for several hours before being laid to rest at the edge of the shrine.
Beware the burning embers
It is considered good luck if ash or embers from the torches fall on you, though you may find yourself in need of new clothes as it’s not uncommon for small holes to be burnt through.
The participants in the festival are clad only in loincloths and are warmed by the heat of the torches. This is particularly impressive considering that temperatures get close to freezing in early January. The festival goes on no matter the weather.