Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社), Kyoto
Ohitaki at Fushimi Inari shrine is the biggest in Japan. It is a rice harvest thanksgiving festival to send the god who brought the harvest back to the mountain. The rite also prays for the health of the emperor. Three large bonfires are lit and about 200,000 goma prayer sticks sent from all over Japan are burned. The prayers’ petitions are written onto wooden gomaki tablets. Later spectators collect some of the ashes to place in their home for good luck. A ceremonial kagura dance is also performed by the shrine maidens (miko).
Ohitaki is one of the oldest Shinto rites. Because a successful harvest depends on the goodwill of the gods, people show their appreciation by offering newly harvested rice and heartfelt prayers. Since the gods exist in nature as do humans, the relationship between them is based on reciprocity - the gods need attention as much as humans need help. The ceremony allows people to think about their dependence on and connection to nature, and to express this through ritual.