Sunday, February 9, 2014

toba no himatsuri

Since living in Japan, I've had the opportunity to attend several fire festivals. I highly recommend the Toba no Himatsuri in Aichi, if you want to get up close and personal with two ginormous bonfires!

the beginning
before shot
These two giant torches called suzumi are approximately five meters in height and can weigh up to two tons! Inside each torch is a holy tree called a shingi. Men from the local area form two teams based on where they live. Their goal is to be the first team to retrieve the holy tree from within the torches and then offer them to the nearby shrine. 

The harvest and the weather of the year are divined from the condition of the burning torches and the winning team. The men ripped away at the torches with their hands - no tools! I suggest you stand on the side where the torches are placed. A walkway divides the two spectator sections and all the old Japanese men will have taken all the good spaces directly across from the torches. However if you stand on the side the torches are located, once the fire is lit, people just crossed over the rope and we stood dangerously close to the fire with no one blocking our view. However people on the opposite side had firemen and such standing in front of them so they couldn't get closer... I arrived a little before 7pm and got a spot close to the front because it was on a slope, stood there for more than a hour desperately gripping with my toes and standing on really precarious ground. Was rewarded with being able to get really close to the action - the rope that separated us was dropped since they relied on spectators to hold it up and no one cared about the rope and keeping us in line when there were flames, water and smoke everywhere!

The Details
Toba no Himatsuri
Dates: Second Sunday of Feburary 3:00pm-8:30 (approximately)
Torches are lit around 8pm but I highly recommend getting here earlier to secure a good spot. Festival lasts for an hour or so. There are food stalls and such if you get hungry.
Access: Mikawa Toba Station - Meitetsu Gamagori Line (a train comes roughly twice an hour) then a 10-15 minute walk to the festival site (I didn't see any signs - if they are any they were all in Japanese - just follow the crowd!)
more info on the festival
official website (japanese only)

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