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December 28, 2011

Atago Shrine Fire Festival

I'm really, truly behind on my blog posts, so I am going to do my best to summarise things quickly. Over the past month, we have had some amazing times and some stressful times (mostly amazing). My parents & brother came for Christmas- it was wonderful! I got a job for the new year! Kamil went on business to Tokyo, and we had a friend from Australia staying at the start of the month. Ah, so much has happened. 

I'll start where I last left off. Martina was still here, and we took her to a fire festival at Atago Shrine. It was the first time that Kam & I had been to Atago (despite it being so close to us, and despite me wanting to see it since before we even arrived in Fukuoka!) 

When we got to the top of the tall staircases, I wasn't too surprised to see that Atago Shrine is really, truly beautiful- as beautiful as I had imagined. It sits on top of a cliff that was once the furthest North part of this section of Fukuoka. Below, where water once bordered the cliff, you can now see clearly the expanse of reclaimed land (where new land has been created on the ocean). 

We arrived just as festivities were starting, and made sure to write our wishes for the new year on wooden sticks before the bonfire began...

We stood in the crowd and watched the ceremony that lead up to the lighting of the fire. One thing I noted about the ceremony was that a woman played a major part, and one that would generally be associated with masculinity- shooting arrows into the crowd, and then into the bale of fresh green leaves that would become the fire. I'm sure it's not an isolated case, but I was really happy to see a woman performing such an important, respected part in the festival. It was something I haven't really witnessed before in Japanese festivals.

As the fire was lit, an amazing smell filled the air as the fresh leaves burnt, and grey smoke billowed in the cold winter air. It was really amazing...

Once the fire was burning enthusiastically, the wooden wish sticks were handed out to the crowd, and we threw the wishes into the bonfire from the sidelines. I had a good try chucking the wish into the fire, but missed quite terribly! The men in charge of the festival made sure that all wishes were collected and burnt- sending the wishes to the gods. Here's a little movie I took on my phone...

After letting the fire rage for awhile, water was thrown to extinguish the flames, ready for the next stage of the festival- walking on hot coals! Before this though, I found it really awesome and slightly amusing watching the crowd hand over their bags to be blessed over the hot coals. The men of the ceremony would proceed to emphatically wave the bags over the coals, yelling blessings through the smoke. I don't know why, but it was really funny to watch. Very cool.

Next, a pathway was cleared through the coals for us to walk on...

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of us walking on the coals, but it did happen and it was great!! They had brushed the actual coals to either side of the path, so we were walking on the dirt beneath. That said, it was still pretty hot, and the coals burning on either side let off a great heat as you passed through- a great experience!

Just before we left, Kam got called over for an interview by KBCTV. They asked him what he wished for and how hot the coals were! We went home and watched the report at 2pm that day. 

Right at the end, the leader of the ceremony demonstrated how it's really done- brushing the hot coals back onto the path and walking through them. What a pro.

More to come soon x

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