Omihachiman Himatsuri (Taimatsu Fire Festival)

 

Every year giant sacred umbrella torches (kasa taimatsu or hiraki taimatsu) made of rape plant, reed, bamboo, cedar, rice straw, and white paper tassel are set ablaze at the Himure Hachimangu Shrine. This ancient taimatsu fire festival has a history of over 1300 years. The Omihachiman Himatsuri is one of the largest of its kind.  

The Omi region around the small rural town of Omihachiman on the eastern shore of Lake Biwa is part of a wider plain in which rice is intensively cultivated. Similar to the Yamato plain around Nara or the fertile river plains around Kyoto and Osaka, it was from earliest times one of the most important seeds of Japanese culture.  

Childrenfs sacred torches (kodomo taimatsu) are provided with a white paper-sign (gohei) at the top. They are made by the male members of families for their sons of certain age. First the kodoma taimatsu are usually set up in front of the entrance door of the house for several days. In the festival evening they are carried to the shrine and set on fire together with the kasa taimatsu as a sacrifice to the deity. What the kasa taimatsu are for the community the kodoma taimatsu are for the individual house. 

The fire festival (himatsuri) opens with the arrival of huge drums carried on big frames by men. The drums are beaten with thick sticks which produce a thundering sound. A group of old style firemen bring the initial fire by which the great torches are set ablaze, one after the other, in strict order of precedence. The resulting sea of fire immediately engulfs the tectonic structures, distorting and consuming them. It is amazing to experience the massive pillars of fire stretching into the night sky. The beats from the drums saturate the smoke and fire filled darkness.


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