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A Japanese Competition of Fireplace and Spirits


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Because the solar peeked out from the cloudy sky in Kyoto, Japan, monks carrying vests trimmed with pompoms and the black box-like headdresses generally known as tokin had been being quizzed in entrance of Mibu Dera, one of many oldest temples within the metropolis. These had been the Yamabushi (mountain hermits), a part of a Buddhist sect generally known as the Shugendō.

To enter the temple’s sacred space, every monk needed to show he was an actual Yamabushi by answering a sequence of questions in regards to the sect’s beliefs, gown and instruments. Solely these with passable responses would acquire entry.

Watching them was a trio of kids in light-colored jackets, with six curious eyes making an attempt to determine what was happening, joined by me, a Korean American photographer with two huge eyes crammed with the identical curiosity.

They had been making ready for the Goma Fireplace Ritual, as a part of the Setsubun Matsuri or Setsubun Competition, held on the day earlier than the start of spring, in accordance with the Asian lunar calendar. For ages, Japanese individuals have used the change of seasons to exorcise previous misfortunes and provide prayers for future security and prosperity. In Kyoto, Setsubun festivals are held at most of the metropolis’s temples and draw crowds of hundreds who rejoice a wide range of rituals to deliver success and thrust back evil spirits.

The youngsters and I quickly adopted the monks into the grounds of the Mibu Temple the place a pile of hinoki, or cypress leaves, was prepared in entrance of the principle corridor for the Goma Fireplace Ritual.

The monks initiated the ritual with loud drumming, the blowing of the big Horagai conch shell and chanting, as they ignited a fireplace to burn the hinoki leaves and gomagi, wood sticks symbolizing human needs (the basis of struggling) that had been added to the pile. The fireplace would thrust back evil spirits for the approaching yr. An infinite cloud of smoke rose earlier than the principle corridor and the close by Thousand Physique Stupa, which incorporates precisely 1,000 statues of Amida Nyorai, or the Buddha of Limitless Mild, and Jizo, a bodhisattva recognized for compassion.

Busy junior monks poured buckets of water across the pyre because the earsplitting drums echoed and the roaring hearth swallowed everybody’s dangerous luck.

Because the senior monks chanted and prayed, the unruly orange hearth was saved in verify with the assistance of the sweating junior monks who poured buckets of water round its perimeter.

On the Yoshida Jinja or Yoshida Shrine, the spotlight of the day was the Tsuina-shiki ceremony, when a devil-god named Hososhi, from historic China, with 4 golden eyes and a horn, wielded an enormous spear and protect and set free bloodcurdling wails as he drove away crimson, blue and yellow oni, a type of demon in Japanese folklore. Kids in white robes held burning torches to mild the motion. Round them, firefighters had been busy extinguishing the embers dropped from the torches.

For Setsubun, individuals additionally scatter soybeans, that are mentioned to ward off evil spirits, in a ritual referred to as Mame Maki, typically whereas shouting, “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out! Good luck in!”). Individuals additionally toss outdated good-luck amulets onto an enormous bonfire in a ceremony generally known as Karo-sai.

Among the many crowds who lined up on the Yoshida shrine as early as three hours earlier than the Tsuina-shiki ceremony, one of many youngest was Miu Imamura, 4, from Kyoto, who was carrying a selfmade oni masks pushed up onto her brow, as she and her sister lined up with their mom, Yuina Imamura, to purchase fortunate beans generally known as fuku-mame. At Setsubun, youngsters historically make and put on oni masks, although the custom appeared to be dying out. ‘

Prayers for the brand new yr are additionally a part of the day. At Mibu, Yasuko Isoda, a local Kyotoite, prayed for her household’s security and for the individuals who had been affected by the Noto earthquake. Ms. Imamura, the mom of the woman with the oni masks, prayed for her household’s well being and no disasters for everybody in 2024.

After the Tsuina-shiki, individuals began to line as much as get an opportunity to obtain hamaya, or holy arrows, from a miko or shrine maiden, who danced whereas carrying arrows in a single hand and a bell within the different. Lots of the arrows had been later positioned on a bonfire to be burned for good luck.

Yoshida Shrine’s Setsubun Competition is without doubt one of the largest in Kyoto and there are greater than 800 meals stalls on the entrance and inside the competition. In the course of the competition, guests endlessly introduced their very own amulets to be burned and volunteers piled the amulets into a big tower for the Karo-sai ceremony. At 11 p.m. on the evening of Setsubun, the shinshoku, or Shinto monks lit the amulet-filled tower with their torches from each side and let the amulets and the gods inside them be free and return residence.

The bonfire raged, consuming the amulets and the holy arrows, seemingly granting the desires of those that’d introduced them to throw on the fireplace, and inaugurating the 12 months of the Blue Dragon, with a grand finale.

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