The Yoshida Fire Festival or "Yoshida no Himatsuri" is held every year on August 26th to appease the goddess of Mount Fuji and to keep volcanic eruptions at bay and to celebrate the end of the Mount Fuji climbing season. For this lively two-day festival celebrated for over 500 years and named one of Japan's three most unique festivals, spectators from across the country and world gather to watch the burning of large "taimatsu" torches and the parade of two large mikoshi (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 on annually on August 26th at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine in Fujiyoshida City with the carrying of two large “mikoshi” (portable shrines). The festival continues with the lighting of the torches starting at the Kamiyoshida Community Center and continuing quickly up and down the main thoroughfare. The festival continues late into the night as the torches burn out. The Susuki Festival, part two of the Fire Festival begins in the afternoon of the following day. The "mikoshi" are carried back to Sengen Shrine where the final ceremony is performed.

The Yoshida Fire Festival has been performed by the same families in Fujiyoshida for the past 500 years. The festival is based on the story of the goddess and reigning deity of Mount Fuji, Konohanasakuyahimé-no-mikoto, who becomes pregnant and is accused of infidelity by her deity husband. To prove her innocence and fidelity, it is agreed upon that she bare the child amidst a raging fire, for if the child is indeed the child of gods, it will withstand the flames and emerge unscathed. According to the story, the child was unharmed, proving the goddess's fidelity and her deity husband's paternity. Subsequently the goddess gained her title as the protector of those who are threatened by fire, and the flames made by the grand taimatsu torches at the Fire Festival represent the fire that burned to prove her innocence.
 
 

Main Events

Day 1: August 26th
15:00 Festival start at Fuji Sengen Shrine
17:00-18:30 Portable shrines (mikoshi) carried through Kamiyoshida
18:30 Cutting of ceremonial rope at Kamiyoshida Community Center
18:40 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

The Yoshida Fire Festival or "Yoshida no Himatsuri" is also called "Chinka Taisai", meaning "the festival to extinguish fire" and has long been performed as a festival to keep Mount Fuji from erupting. Konohanasakuyahimé-no-mikoto, the goddess and reigning deity of Mount Fuji enshrined in Sengen Shrine, is transferred from her home and carried throughout the streets of Fujiyoshida in hopes that she will recognize the value of the city and decide to keep it safe.

The goddess's soul, alongside the souls of two other deities, are transferred from their respective shrines into portable shrines called mikoshi and are carried throughout town by local men. Five hundred years of tradition are ritualistically observed during the transfer of the deities' souls from the shrines to the mikoshi and through streets of Fujiyoshida so as not to anger them and consequently incite an eruption.

On the first day of the festival, two mikoshis are carried out from their protective shelter at the Suwa Shrine (a component part of Sengen Shrine) and are tied to large shoulder beams for transport. The first of the portable shrines is called Myōjin-mikoshi meaning "shrine of the great god" and is in the shape of a miniature shrine. This is mikoshi transports the soul of the goddess of Mount Fuji. The second is a replica of Mount Fuji or Mikagé-mikoshi, meaning "mirror (image) of the mountain," called Oyama-mikoshi, and carries the souls of the goddess's husband and father who are enshrined in Suwa Shrine. There is a rule that during the procession of the mikoshi through the streets, Myōjin-mikoshi takes the lead and Oyama-mikoshi follows.

The climax of the mikoshi procession occurs as Myōjin-mikoshi enters the Kamiyoshida Community Center, which serves as the Otabisho, the mikoshis' temporary resting place. The entrance to the Otabisho is tied off with a traditional Japanese shimenawa rope. The shimenawa is ceremonially cut by the phoenix on top of Myōjin-mikoshi as it is carried over the threshold and into the resting space. This procedure is a testament to the skill of the mikoshi carriers also known as sekko, as the mikoshi are incredibly heavy and difficult to maneuver.

The mikoshi remain at the Otabisho for the remainder of the night through the following afternoon and are visited by crowds of spectators from far and wide. The taimatsu torches blaze late into the night and with their eventual dimming comes the end of the first night of the festival.

The second day of the festival is dedicated to the ceremonial return of the deities to their rightful places at Sengen and Suwa Shrines. The mikoshi are once again transported on the shoulders of local men back throughout the city streets. The procession first makes its way to the Omikuraishi a historic stone thought to be the sacred location where the Suwa Shrine deities were formerly enshrined. A brief ritual is performed here before the mikoshi make their final journey back to the sacred grounds of Sengen Shrine.

Once the mikoshi arrive at the shrine, the Takamagahara ritual is performed. This intense ritual involves running the mikoshi around the grounds seven times. In a blur of intensity, the mikoshi, carriers and onlookers participate in the dizzying ritual prior to seeing the deities off to their rightful homes. Once the final transfer and rituals are performed, the Fire Festival comes to a peaceful end.

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

Oyama Mikoshi is heartily paraded through the streets