The Yoshida Fire Festival or “Yoshida no Himatsuri” is held every year on August 26th to appease the goddess of Mt. Fuji and to keep the volcano from erupting for another year. Yoshida no Himatsuri also cermonially serves as the closing ceremony of the Fuji climbing season. For this lively two day festival, named one of Japan’s three most unique festivals and celebrated for over 500 years, the entire community comes out to watch the burning of large “taimatsu” torches and the parade of two large Omikoshi (portable shrines) through the streets. The Fire Festival is one of Fujiyoshida’s most prized cultural possessions, and this year’s festival promises to live up to its reputation.


 

"Yoshida no Himatsuri"

The festival starts at 2pm on August 26th at Fuji Sengen Shrine in Fujiyoshida with the carrying of two large “omikoshi” portable shrines. The festival continues with the lighting of the torches starting at the Kamiyoshida Community Center at 6pm and continuing quickly up and down Honcho Dorii. At 7pm and 8pm there are performances by local taiko group, Kaen Taiko, at the events area on Honcho Dorii. The festival continues late into the night as the torches burn out. At 2pm on the 27th the Susuki Festival, day two of the Fire Festival, begins. The shrines are carried back to Sengen Shrine where the finale of the two day festival happens at 5pm.

The origin of Himatsuri is based on the story of the Goddess Deity of Mt. Fuji “Konohanasakuya Hime no Mikoto” who becomes pregnant and is accused of having an affair by her deity husband. To prove her innocence she locks herself in a room of the shrine and sets it afire. If the child lives it will show her dubious husband that it is indeed his child because it could supernaturally endure the heat. According to the story, the goddesses’ child was born in the middle of the flames, which proved to her doubtful husband that he was indeed the father. The flames made by the taimatsu torches at the Fire Festival represent the fire started by the Goddess of Mt. Fuji to prove her innocence.
 
 

Main Events

Day 1: August 26th
14:00 Festival start at Fuji Sengen Shrine
14:30-17:00 Portable shrines (mikoshi) carried through Kamiyoshida
17:00 Cutting of ceremonial rope at Kamiyoshida Community Center
18:00 Lighting of torches along main street
18:30 Taiko Performance
20:00 Day one of Fire Festival comes to an end

Day 2: August 27th
14:00 Festival begins. Mikoshis are carried back to Sengen Shrine
17:00 Finale at Sengen Shrine
 
 

Flow of the Festival

Himatsuri is also called "Chinka Taisai", which means "The Festival to Extinguish Fire" or the festival to keep Mt. Fuji from erupting for another year. The goddess enshrined in Fuji Sengen Shrine must be taken out of her home and carried around the streets of Fujiyoshida in order that she learns the value of the city, and decides to keep the volcano from erupting. The goddess' soul is transferred from the shrine into a portable shrine called an "omikoshi," and it is carried around town by 30 local strong-men. If the proper procedures for taking the goddesses' soul from the shrine and through the streets of Fujiyoshida are not followed, the risk of angering the goddess and an eruption of Fujisan increases. Protocol over 500 years old is ritualistically observed at the fire festival.

The day of the Fire Festival, two Mikoshis are carried out from their protective shelter at the Suwa Shrine and tied to large shoulder beams. The first of these portable shrines is called "myojin mikoshi" meaning "shrine of the great god" and is in the shape of a miniature shrine. The second is a one ton replica of "Mt. Fuji" called "Oyama" or "mikage mikoshi," meaning mirror (image) of the mountain. As the Mikoshi are carried through the streets of Fujiyoshida at the Fire Festival, there is a rule that Myojin Mikoshi takes the lead and Oyama Mikoshi follows. Extra shoulder beams are prepared in case one splits and breaks. Traditionally, the carriers of Oyama Mikoshi stop for a break and throw the mikoshi to the ground three times. They do this to raise spirits, create a bond between the carriers, and to appease Mt. Fuji so that it doesn't erupt in the coming year.

The climax of the mikoshi carrying happens as myojin mikoshi enters the Kamiyoshida Community Center where a resting place for the two Mikoshis is prepared. The entrance to the resting area is tied off with a traditional Japanese "shimenawa" rope. The rope adorning the entrance to the mikoshis' resting place is ceremonially cut by a phoenix on top of Myojin Mikoshi as it is carried through. This is to show off the skills of the carriers "sekko" of myojin mikoshi as it is very heavy and difficult to maneuver.

One of the most impressive elements of Hi-matsuri is the support that comes from the community of Fujiyoshida. The Fire Festival has been practiced by the same families in Fujiyoshida for the last 500 years, and more than anything it gives Fujiyoshida its sense of identity and place in the surrounding nature of the 5 lakes area. The Fire Festival is truly one of Fujiyoshida's and Japan's valuable cultural assets.

Check out more photos and video footage of the festival on its official website!

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Oyama Mikoshi is heartily paraded through the streets