It's the 大山たいまつ行列
Mt. Daisen Torch Parade.
So what happens when you arm a thousand Japanese people with kerosene-soaked rags stuffed in bamboo?
They make an orderly procession down a huge mountain path.
Let me start from the beginning. The principal of Takata Elementary School, Mr. Kadowaki, invited me to come with his family to Mt. Daisen. Mr. Kadowaki loves English, and often has me come talk with him during my free periods about strange English grammar. And Mt. Daisen a huge mountain just outside of Shimane in Tottori Prefecture. Many JETS enjoy skiing and snowboarding at Daisen (which literally just means big mountain) in the winter. I had never been there before, but the view sure was gorgeous.
His two sons, Satoru and Kanato are quiet, smart boys. Satoru is obsessed with airplanes and wants to be an air traffic controller. Here we are enjoying some festival food (a locally brewed beer for me, takoyaki for the boys) and getting ready to climb the mountain.
We climbed about half a mile up Daisen to the shrine
大神山神社 Oogamiyama-jinja (Literally Big God Mountain Shrine. I'm seeing a pattern to this place . . . ) On the way up we colleced our taimatsu or torches. They were literally bamboo poles with kerosene soaked rags shoved down the tubes. Nice.
At the temple we encountered some priests dressed up as 天狗Tengu- birdlike mountain goblins. Now, in Japanese folklore there are bad tengu- the ones who cause mischeif, and good tengu- the ones who guard temples. I think these were good tengu, although they did attack visitors who strayed too close and made them have their picture taken.
The actual parade started about 7:30. Some priests said a blessing, and they and the tengu led the procession. Participants walked up to a huge ceremonial fire to light their taimatsu and make their way down the now dark mountain path.
It was literally one of the coolest experiences I've ever had in Japan.
As the boys and I lit our torches Satoru whispered "I love fire." I told him he was a pyromaniac, which is probably now his new favorite English word.
I can't really fault him though. I love fire too.
It is said that a good thing will happen to you this year if your torch lasts all the way to the bottom of the mountain. Satoru had let out too much wick at the beginning of the parade, which made a spectacular fire, but unfortunately burned out too quickly. Kanato's torch was too thin and he had the most problems keepin it lit. But mine was perfect, and lasted all the way to the bottom. Yeah!