There was a little bit of excitement in Akita prefecture today. AIU arranged a bus so students could visit a fire festival nearby. It was a curious event. When we arrived people were standing around little fires, facing a Shinto priest who was reading something traditional and important that we couldn’t really understand. Then the crowd broke up to get cups of hot sake or tea and mikans (Japanese oranges–satsumas in America). Several people began directing us in to various spots thanks to an announce that we were visiting from the university to see a local tradition.
Next, everyone walked over to a big bonfire that was being lit. People began throwing things into it, and we found out that they were throwing out the old charms that they received from Shinto shrines in the previous year. Burning the charms of the last year in special fires is the traditional way to dispose of them–every year the charms have to be renewed. Once the fire was burning strongly one man picked up a bundle of kindling attached to a rope, lit the kindling, and began swinging it around. I’m not sure what the significance of this is supposed to be, but it was cool to watch. However, after the first man finished people began trying their hands at it in every corner, and pretty soon we had to watch where we were standing. A lot of AIU students tried it too (not me, I’m a chicken when it comes to fire).
After an uneventful return and dinner, I remembered that I had found a sledding hill a few days before, so a few of us decided to hike into the park with our makeshift “sledges” and go sledding. It was lots of fun! It took some work to get our two little trails working, but pretty soon we’re sliding and spinning to the bottom. Since we didn’t have proper sleds, it didn’t always work very well, and the thigh deep snow sometimes made getting back up the hill interesting, but it was a great time. We’re hoping to go again–once we’ve warmed up!
Japanese word of the day: kaji / かじ (kah-jee) noun: fire