Friday, October 22, 2010

Kurama Fire Festival

Is there a better combination than three boys and open fire?
How about 5 boys, 1 girl, and open fire?

But I get ahead of myself.
Darrin was still away last night...and so was our Kyoto friend, A.,'s wife. So A. and I got our six kids together to visit the annual Kurama Fire Festival, which happens once a year at a small hot spring village north of Kyoto.

Honestly, my boys were not that excited to go. We had to skip their after-school clubs, and they were tired (Fridays are for relaxing). So I was, as usual, second-guessing my parenting by dragging them up there. But here was a good sign: Alek kept whining, "I don't want to go to the fire festival. It's boring there" This is always a good sign. Alek is our 180 degree forecaster. You might recall that he made the same prediction about the Osaka Aquarium and Tokyo Disneyland.

The main hurdle was the trip up there. The first train was fine:

But the second train? Forget about it. Crazy crowded for 20 minutes. I couldn't take a picture because the camera was wedged between me and 100 of my closest Kyoto friends.

Here we are at the second train station waiting to get on (most people got on at the start of the line--so it was already packed by the time we got on). Do you see the boys eating their homemade onigiri? I'm sure you'll be interested to know that I have learned to make my own rice balls. I don't like the roulette of buying onigiri at the store....half the time I get some kind of salty fish I don't like. The solution was to either make my own, or learn to read more kanji. Guess what's easier.

Here's what greeted us at the station. Tengu:

And here's one of the torches, waiting to be lit.
Early crowds in the streets of Kurama.

Here is a little boy getting ready upstairs in his house. People's windows were wide open along the route. I love looking inside people's houses, so I was digging this. Apparently, families prepare these torches, in small to large sizes. The kids go first, and they carry the lit torches through the streets, chanting all the while. Later, groups of men carry the huge torches.

I'm not sure of the whole story, but if you trust the internet, then 1000 years ago, the people of Kurama built a shrine to protect their town from another earthquake. They used the torches to welcome the gods to the shrine.

This festival seemed like a family affair. Lots of people taking pictures, and tons of cute kids walking around with fire.

Our kids were photographed several times. Not by us, I mean.
Alek and Hugo also attracted attention because they had adorned their faces with Halloween tattoos (thanks, Tracy!)

Click here to hear them chanting and see them carrying medium-size torches.

In case the torches are not enough, many houses also had an open fire right in front of the house. If the fires rose too high, somebody just poured a dipper of water on it to calm it down. See? Totally safe.
Some great drumming here. This was my favorite part (Click to hear it). If you crank the volume, maybe you can experience it right in your chest, like we could.

Burning embers kept falling on the road. So they have these handy American kids around, who stomp on them to put them out.
A pic of one of the largest torches.

Here's a scene in front of a house with a man in formal garb, a fire basket, and a torch on the ground that had completed its service...

Oh, and in the middle of it all, Alek lost a tooth.
A. and E. told us that Japanese kids don't have a tooth fairy. They just throw their teeth on the roof. (How about it, Alek?)

The trip home was rather a crush....but, I'm choosing not to remember that part.
Anyway, safe to say that Alek's predictive powers are still about 100% accurate. It was a great time.


  1. gee.....this makes today's halloween parade down main street seem rather boring. we need some torches! margaret

  2. and some scantily-clothed men would be fun, too!

  3. This puts "playing with matches" in a totally different universe! WOW!! Gramma

  4. This is actually Tracy, not Jordan.
    Can't wait to show Ian this tonight- he will be very jealous!

  5. It was a blast- thank you so much for joining us. Great pics too.