Video link: http://youtu.be/n-SfD9DFxOg
Katsube Shrine (勝部神社) and Sumiyoshi Shrine (住吉神社) in Moriyama, Shiga Prefecture will hold their annual Hi-matsuri fire festivals (火まつり) on the evening of Jan. 14, 2012. Saturday.
The twin fire festivals are related to each other and held at the same time. You can only see one of them, but I recommend Katsube Shrine’s fire festival because they burn more torches.
The festival starts with a Shinto ceremony at the shrine at 6 pm. Then they march around the neighborhood while beating a taiko drum. You can see the giant torches made of straw at the shrine. The climax is when they light the giant torches at 8:30 pm. These half naked men then dance around in front of the fire. The torches are doused with kerosene so they light up and burn out very quickly. It gets very hot so don’t go too close.
According to one legend, 800 years ago during the Kamakura Period, Emperor Tsuchimikado (土御門天皇) fell ill and a fortune-teller said that a monster dragon-serpent (orochi 大蛇) living in a marsh in present-day Moriyama was to blame. When the dragon was finally slain and burned by hunters sent by the Emperor, the body fell on Katsube Shrine and the head fell on Sumiyoshi Shrine. The young men danced wildly around the burning dragon and the Emperor recovered. That’s how the festival supposedly started.
Unfortunately, you cannot see the festival at both shrines since they are held around the same time. Katsube Shrine’s fire festival is bigger with more torches, twelve of them. While Sumiyoshi Shrine’s fire festival is smaller with only six torches which represent the head of the slain dragon.
And remember, this is the year of the dragon, so the festival might be more special this year.
Both shrines are a short walk from JR Moriyama Station. Katsube Shrine is easy to find on the west side of the train station and Sumiyoshi Shrine is on the east side. Map here.