Buddhist worshippers in Japan took part in the annual hiwatari matsuri festival on Sunday near Mount Takao, some 50 kilometers west of Tokyo. During the event, participants walked barefoot across smoldering hot coals while praying for good health and safety for themselves, family members, and the world.
“Passing your body through the flames cleanses your soul and delivers your prayers to Buddha,” said Koshou Kamimura, a Buddhist monk from Takao-san Yakuouin Temple. (Reuters)
The festival, held traditionally on the second Sunday in March, often attracts some 3,000-4,000 visitors, although this year numbers were limited to just 1,000 people due to the need for social distancing. While some monastics participating in the event did not wear masks, lay participants and observers were required to wear masks and practice social distancing. Last year’s event was closed to the public due to the pandemic.
“Historically, Mount Takao is an important place to pray for deliverance from plagues, so I felt we should hold the festival this year with certain precautions,” added Kamimura. (Reuters)
Before the fire-walking, monks chant in a procession, followed by rituals and performances aimed at warding off evil spirits. Next, the names of benefactors of the event are read out.
To prepare the coals for walking, the monks set fire to piles of wood and Japanese cypress leaves creating a bonfire. They then doused the flames with water and laid the embers out in a path to walk over while chanting. Members of the public who make donations are then invited to walk over the embers. Some monks carried children over the smoke so they could take part in the ritual without the danger of burning their feet.
Japan is in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections, with Tokyo under a state of emergency in an attempt to halt the spread. The government plans to host the Summer Olympic Games this year, which were delayed from last year due to the pandemic. People across the country have expressed mixed feelings about the prospect of hosting a major international event.
“Coronavirus infections are spreading globally, so I prayed that it doesn’t spread any further,” said Eriko Nakamura, 46, as Buddhist monks chanted in the background. “The fire-walking event is held outside and there are restrictions on the number of participants. When it comes to the Olympics, it will be held indoors, so I hope they can limit the number of spectators by half.” (Reuters)
Japan is considering limiting the number of people who can accompany foreign delegations at the summer games, and guests will be asked to have COVID-19 tests both before and after arrival in Japan. The Olympic Games are currently scheduled to run from 23 July to 8 August.
The global pandemic has reached 120.2 million cases with some 2.66 million deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins Resource Center. Japan, like many other countries in East Asia, has done relatively well compared with the United States and many countries in Europe, recording 448,000 confirmed cases and 8,625 deaths. Nonetheless, this third wave, which peaked in mid-January, is the largest the country has seen, with daily new cases sometimes exceeding 5,000. In recent weeks, new case numbers have hovered around 1,000 daily.
Japan worshippers brave smouldering coals to pray for safety (Reuters)
Japan worshippers brave smouldering coals to pray (Yahoo News)
Mount Takao Fire Walking Festival (Japanistry)