On January 12, 2017, I was witness to the Mizukaburi Festival of Yonekawa (米川の水かぶり) in the City of Tome, Miyagi prefecture. This is an annual festival which is said to be over 800 years old. Men enwrapped in a costume made of straw parade through the town dousing homes and businesses with buckets of water. They are acting as agents of a fire deity enshrined at the local temple. It is believed that this ritual action drives away the evil forces seeking to harm the community by sparking a flame, which in the extreme could be the seed of a conflagration engulfing the many wooden buildings that tightly line the streets (a major historical concern in Japan). Spectators yank on the straw of the costumes hoping to take some strands home, for it is believed to offer protective power, bringing good luck throughout the year.
Just recently returned from Kamakura City (Kanagawa prefecture). On February 8th, at the Egaraten Shrine, the annual memorial service for needles (針供養 hari kuyo) was held. Women bring bent, rusted, broken, and otherwise exhausted needles to the shrine. One by one the participants gently prick the surface of a large, specially made tofu (bean curd) cake. Pressing their palms together, the women then offer a silent prayer for the repose of the souls of the needles, now at rest in the soft, soothing tofu. Gratitude is expressed for the needles, who busily assist in the work of the housewife, seamstress, and hobbyist, selflessly sacrificing their tiny steel bodies, even to the point where they collapse and break, hewn asunder.
The Dontosai Festival is held every January 14th. The previous year’s talismans and amulets are ritually burnt. Exposing themselves to the cold, a number of men and women parade to the shrine to receive the blessings of the enshrined deities (photo: Sendai, Miyagi prefecture).