Mount Takao Fire-Walking Festival

Fancy a Spot of Fire-walking?

The Mt. Takao Fire-Walking Festival (hiwatari matsuri) is an annual event held on the second Sunday in March a 5-minute walk up the road from Keio Takaosanguchi Station. The festival is organised by the Takao-san Yakuo-in Buddhist temple perched just below the famous summit. It’s one event I’ve been eager to check out for ages but couldn’t due to Sunday work commitments. This past weekend I finally had the chance to watch these barefooted Yamabushi daredevils at close range. While the event kicks off at 1 pm sharp it’s recommended to arrive an hour or so earlier to secure a good position.

The first 70 minutes involves displays of Japanese archery, bodies being flayed with boiling water and a long tribute to the temple’s sponsors. The piece de resistance of the afternoon is a gigantic bonfire topped with fern and wooden tablets. Even at 50 metres the heat given off is intense with the Yamabushi kept busy dousing it with water as the local fire brigade looks on should things turn for the worst.

After the fire settles down and the glowing hot embers materialise the real action starts. One by one the Yamabushi fire-walk across seemingly unscathed from the experience. For a small fee it’s possible for the general public to try some fire walking which is pretty safe as by this stage most the embers have stopped smouldering. Walking barefoot over the hot coals is said to provide protection against sickness and misfortune.

Horagai a large conch shell used by the yamabushi to signal their presence.

Yamabushi archery.

Yamabushi cleansing ritual.

Priest reading through a list of supporters.

Lone firefighter enjoying the festivities.

Burning of nadegi wooden tablets.

Cleansing feet with salt.

Dousing the flames.

Hachi-nawa cords carried to ensure safety over dangerous passages.

Participants lined up shoes in hand.