An epic Shinto shrine purification ritual. 12 torches – each 50kg – and many brave souls.
Witness an ancient tradition involving ritual ceremonies and offerings of dance, food, and fire.
Be blessed by fire and ash at Nachi Fire Festival!
Nachi Fire Festival
Every year, the Nachi Fire Festival (also known as the “Nachi no Ogi” and “Nachi no hi Masturi“) draws hundreds to the sacred shrine by the Nachi Waterfall, where 12 portable shrines are purified with 12 blazing torches as part of the highly anticipated ceremonies that begins at 1:50pm.
Capturing photos like these above are what hundreds of photographers wait several hours for. By the time we arrived, at 10am, most of the best photo vantage points were already taken. With many “sumimasen” (excuse me in Japanese) and the help of kind Japanese who made space for us, we finally found a point from which our photographer would be able to zoom in on the action while being right by where the torches would land. You won’t believe how close he (and especially his GoPro) got to the burning torches.
He has a hol(e)y shirt to prove that he had been baptized by fire!
While the torch procession is an awe-inspiring ritual well-deserving of being the highlight of the festival, if you’d like to catch additional devotion displayed through dance and music, you can hike for 15 minutes up the steep steps to the Seiganto-ji Temple, or drive there. During the 11:30am Nachi no Dengaku, the dancing musicians perform such an exhaustingly long and repetitive ritual dance that they have a scheduled break in which they’re ritualistically fanned!
Indeed, the dedication of the participants, and the orderliness of the audience, have made us huge fans of Japanese festivals.
Don’t Miss an Event
- Ideally, stay in Nachi and get tickets for hotel-exclusive areas of viewing Nachi Fire Festival.
- If staying in town isn’t an option, EG recommends you stay in Kii-Katsura, an onsen town with our as-yet favorite Surf and Turf.
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- Car Rental: As early as you can, rent a car within the Wakayama prefecture from 660 (which is the cheapest and provides free transfer), Orix (2nd cheapest), or Toyota.
- Nearest stations for transfer to buses are Nachi, Shingu and Kii-Katsura.
- From Kii-Katsura, get a Kumano Kotsu unlimited round trip bus ticket for 1000yen (500yen for a child) and take the bus all the way to Nachisan.
- From Shingu Station, take the train or bus to Nachi Station. Note that trains are cheaper but less frequent.
- From Nachi Station, take the bus and stop at Nachisan bus stop.
Nachi Fire Festival
The Nachi Fire Festival is a holy rite that transports the deities enshrined at Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine to the Nachi Falls where they were enshrined by the founding emperor of Japan. 12 auspiciously adorned portable shrines shaped like the Nachi Falls are used to transfer the deities and 12 flaming torches made from sacred cypress purify the shrines.
Prior to the climatic ceremony involving torches, at Kumano Nachi Taisha Shrine, you may wish to observe Yamatomai and Nachi no Dengaku. Yamatomai is a traditional dance performed by young girls and boys.
Nachi no Dengaku is also a traditional dance, but is performed by adult males only. This dance, a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, has its roots in farmers’ ritual dance to pray for and celebrate a bumper harvest.
The Nachi Festival is not only sacred but also awe-inspiring, a must-see for worshippers/pilgrims, Culture Vultures, and photographers.
If you hope to catch photos or videos of the festival, plan your day well and be prepared to make compromises. Getting the best vantage point for the fire ceremony requires arriving early and reserving your spot hours before the ceremony. This means you’ll miss every part of the festival that happens prior. Decide your priorities ahead of time.
Nachi Fire Festival
At first, I thought I drew the short stick when I volunteered to reserve a good spot for the fire ceremony. Waiting for hours – even somewhere as idyllic and beautiful as Nachi – can get tedious. As soon as the fire ceremony was finished, however, I knew I was – in fact – the lucky one. Getting a front-row seat to the fire ceremony was absolutely incredible, and I’d have gladly waited even longer for the honor and privilege to see it up close. It was beautiful, exhilarating, and fantastic fun all at once.
Don’t be mistaken, though. While I wouldn’t call the ceremony dangerous, it’s certainly not for the careless or clumsy. There are thin rope lines that indicate where the fire will be thrown and a few basic announcements and warnings in Japanese and that’s it. Their perspective on safety is one of personal responsibility – they will not hold your hand or berate uncooperative tourists – so you must be careful and use common sense.
Keep in mind these torches are big, heavy, and hot. The noble torchbearers do their best to control the flame, but accidents can happen and you will be seriously injured if you aren’t careful. Although I stayed behind the safety ropes at all times and followed the lead of those around me, my Japanese brethren and I still ended up with scorch marks and holes in our shirts.
Our approach to covering Nachi Fire Festival for you was to divide and conquer. Matt wanted to ensure he got the best footage of the photogenic torch procession while I wanted to see as much as possible.
While Matt camped with his tripod beside the stairs where he would get so close to the torches that his shirt and bag got singed, I climbed to the temple on the hill to watch the rituals, some of which would be repeated after the Torch ceremony so Matt would see them too. When I went back to meet Matt, we agreed that I should stand near the Waterfall where the shrine is. I got to see the torches being lit before they were brought up to the stairs where Matt was but I didn’t get as dangerously close to the fire. I also got to see the offerings being presented at the shrine. At the end, we were both somehow two of the the lucky few who received fans from the participants.
In hindsight, if I could choose between the 2 experiences I and Matt had at Nachi, I would have chosen Matt’s. This is not to say that I did not enjoy seeing more action, but that Matt’s encounter with the fire was to die for and Eventful Globe is so glad to be able to share that perspective with you in our video above.
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