The Oni Matsuri is held at Takisanji Temple every February. Part of the festival involves blessings for 42, 25, and 12 year old males - of which 3 males are selected as representatives for participation in a ceremony held in the main hall. The 3 males wear ceremonial masks - the 42 year wears the mask of a grandfather, the 25 year old the mask of a grandmother, and the young boy wears the mask of a grandson. In addition, about 30 men (usually but not necessarily elderly men) who were born in a year with the same sign of the Chinese zodiac as the year of the festival participate in a ceremony holding burning torches. The festival is famous in the Mikawa region as a traditional religious ceremony to greet the beginning of spring.
Prior to the festival, we walked around town to see what the area was like. Even though this is officially within Okazaki city limits, the area feels more like the country. The area is a narrow valley with a river running through the middle. The hill sides are steep enough that development was limited. One major attraction there is the entry gate for the town (photo above).
At the start of the festival, they had some weapon demonstrations. I think this part of the event was called the garden festival, and there was some farm implements shown and mimes giving a story of how rice was planted and grown and stuff like that. It was raining a bit, so all the umbrellas people had limited my view and made for some fuzzy pictures. Above is a photo of a guy using what I think was called a nigata.
The guy in red (with the mask on) on the left side of the photo is one of the three representatives (12, 25, or 42 year old) which they talked about in the description.
There were a lot of fire men around. As you can see from the photo, the flames are rather large. If you look closely, you may notice more flames than just the torches. There is a good amount of flame dropping on the ground in front of the men, and also there are flames behind the men you see. The men holding the torches loop around the front deck area and then the other direction through the interior, holding their large burning torches (so the flames you see behind are more men headed the other direction). They did this for 5 or 10 minutes. Rather unsafe, when you consider that the temple is made completely of wood. There was a photo posted on a bulletin board from a previous year showing some firemen manning hoses to douse flames when the building did catch on fire.
Even with all this fire, there is little control of the crowds. There were two bon fires out in the audience area, and I could have walked up and cooked marshmallows on them if I wanted to and if I could find marshmallows in the grocery stores here).
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