It’s March 7, Omizutori : Thousand year old Japanese festival of repentance, Spring, water and fire

Get doused in fire sparks during Omizutori for a year’s good health

A ceremony for inviting an abundant year and keeping away disaster, Omizutori has been held at Todaiji for over 1260 years.

Each night of the Omizutori festival, large torches are lit outside Nigatsudo Hall at Todaiji Temple in a specular fire show.

Douji (monks’ helpers) run through the cloisters and spin their torches whilst visitors below compete to get covered in the flying sparks.

It’s a brave thing to do.  Nigatsudo hall is made completely of wood. More than half of Nara’s temples have burned down and been rebuilt at some point in history.

The chosen 11

The 11 monks at this ceremony are called Rengyoshu and are specially chosen in December.

From February, the Rengyoshu being their harsh training.

They are isolated from the world.

Their clothes are made only of washi paper.  

Until Omizutori, they must abstain from eating meat and remain silent.

Gods Go Fishing

The Renhyoshu draw water from a well that only springs one night a year.

According to legend, the well was a gift from a god.

The founder of the temple invited 13,700 gods to a ceremony.

One of the gods, named Onyu-myojin, was late for the ceremony. He had been out fishing!

To make up for being late, he made water spring from the ground in front of the temple once a year.

The water is used in the Dattan — a mysterious ceremony inside Nigatsudo hall.

The ceremony is closed to the public.  The priests use torches inside the hall for the ceremony and the building glows. The sound of horns and bells can be heard.

The water from the well is said to have the power to heal and absolve people of their sins.

Eleven-Faced Goddess

During the festival, prayers are performed in front of the eleven-faced  Goddess of Mercy Kannon, to confess people’s sins and pray for forgiveness.

Other ceremonies include the act of Gotaitouchi-no-gyouhou where monks vigorously slam themselves against a wall whilst circling the statue of Kannon.

When Omizutori is over, The Rengyoshu monks let children wear the hat which they wore during Dattan.

If a child wears the hat, he or she is believed to grow up healthy.

It is said that spring won’t come until “Omizutori” is over.

 

Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.