Shinto Nachi Fire Festival: Celebrating the Spirit of the Waterfall

By Sakaori (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
By Sakaori (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The Nachi Fire Festival, locally referred to as the Nachi No Ogi Matsuri, is a religious holiday celebrated in Kumano mountains located in the Wakayama Prefecture.

The Wakayama Prefecture is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The event involves over 12 Mikoshi, portable shrines made of vermillion, which are about six meters tall and decorated with fans and mirrors and are designed in the image of the Nachi Waterfall which is just next to the shrine. The festival took place on July 14. The celebration features fires, torches and religious dances in a wonderful and breathtaking experience especially given the backdrop of the waterfall.

The Nachi Fire Festival traces its origins back to the ancient Shinto religion originating from Japan. Shinto is derived from the Chinese characters Shen (gods) and Tao (Way) which translates to “gods’ way”. The Nachi Fire Festival honors the spirit being associated with the waterfall which falls from a height of 133 meters thus drawing blessings to themselves.

In the festival, fire serves as a purifying force and it is present in the huge torches which are carried by the participants and are a purposefully brought close to the Mikoshi in order that the flames exert their purifying force on the shrine and spirit within which extends the purification to the participants. The expansive use of the torches makes this one of the three well known Fire festivals in Japan celebrating Shinto. The Mikoshi which serve as a resting place for the spirits not only allow the people a chance to honor the gods but also an opportunity for the gods to bless the people. The Mikoshi are deigned to look like tiny temples to match the purpose they serve.

The ceremony itself features the huge torches, 12 in number and each weighing about 50kg waved close to the portable shrines representing the 12 deities and the 12 months of the year. Appointed people carry the shrines on shoulders giving loud cries as they rush up the stairs of the Grand Shrine, they are met by those carrying the huge torches who are running down the stairs. The shrines and torches are then moved to the Water Fall and a ritual is performed and a prayer offered to the power of the deity of the waterfall.


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