Yoshida Fire Festival
Fireworks at the foot of Mt. Fuji.
When summer starts winding down, get ready for heat and fire at one of the more unique festivals in Japan. Every year on Aug. 26 and 27, the city of Fujiyoshida in Yamanashi Prefecture celebrates the end of the Fuji climbing season with a bang. Yoshida Fire Festival takes place at Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Shrine located at the foot of mighty Mount Fuji. The festival is known in Japan for being one of the “three most unique festivals.”
What makes a fire festival?
After visiting Yoshida Fire Festival, you’ll see why it is so distinct from other fire festivals in Japan. During the event, more than 70 three-meter-high torches line a two-kilometer stretch along the city’s main street. When dusk falls over the city, locals ignite the giant torches simultaneously and the street blazes like an orange river instantly.
Although sparks do flicker off the torches, there’s never been any fire-related accidents. Locals say this is because the festival is protected by the goddess of fire safety that is worshipped at the shrine. Legend states that she even gave birth in the middle of a fire to prove she was faithful to her husband. The festival also includes the carrying of the heavy Oyama mikoshi (portable shrine) shaped like Mount Fuji.
This is one of the few times you can see a mikoshi thrown on the ground in Japan. As the mikoshi is thrown down, it makes a loud crash, similar to the rumblings of an active volcano. This is done to pacify the mountain gods. The mikoshi are paraded and torches are lit on the first night (Yoshida fire festival) and mikoshi are also paraded on the second day which is called the Susuki Festival (named after the silver grass used in the rituals).
The festival’s history
Long ago, the shrine marked the start of the Yoshida mountain trail. However, today, this starting point is hardly used; many choose to ascend the mountain from the 5th stations to cut climbing time.
Yoshida Fire Festival dates back some 400 years. Although the festival’s origin is a bit fuzzy, locals generally agree that it’s performed to calm the mountain gods. It was believed that whenever the gods were angry, Mount Fuji erupted. The festival also thanks the gods for a safe climbing season and ceremoniously closes the season.