It was 7 pm on a Saturday night in January when people started gathering around a wooden tower at the center of Senritenjin Shrine, Osaka. Some of them came to pray for a good year; others came to buy charms for academic success and wealth, but many sat down chit-chatting in excitement. None of them seemed bothered by the cold. People ranging from young children to the elderly, smiled their brightest as they waited for the procession of the biggest fire festival in Osaka, to begin. I, along with some of my friends, managed to arrive rather early to check on the site and, like everybody else, came to see the main attraction of the night.
The main attraction was a wooden tower called the Tondo Yagura. It stood proud and tall at an approximate height of more than 15 meters. It was made of straw with a thin tree branch as its support. The tower itself was decorated with shide, white zig-zag streamers commonly found in Shinto rituals, a few around the tower and one right on top. The sight reminded me of a Christmas tree, one that will soon be burnt to start the year.
The famous Tondo Yagura
The night was lively, as it was young, when the procession finally began. Right before the priests were about to arrive with their torches, snow started to fall onto the shrine. It was an ethereal sight, something I have never witnessed before since I hail from the tropical country of Indonesia. Soon, the ground was covered in pure white. The light flakes melted quickly when exposed to heat.
There were smiling faces everywhere and the cameras went clicking to capture the white wonder. It seemed miraculous and I felt fortunate for being alive and experiencing it all.
Not long after, the Shinto priests blessed the tower and chanted their prayers, before stepping inside the wooden tower to set it on fire. As per safety protocol, firefighters and festival committees stood on guard in order to ensure the procession went safe and smooth. It was only a few minutes later that smoke started to wisp through the of the Tondo Yagura. Soon enough, the tower was shrouded in flames and thick smoke, so much that people had to step backwards.
Once the smoke subsided, the priests kept the fire going with firewood and bamboo tree decorated with calligraphies. The fire grew even stronger and the procession grew even more captivating as time flew by. The way the fire sizzled under the moonlit sky was truly a sight to behold. The fire was warm, for the body and the heart. It was truly a magnificent way to start the year.
The Tondo Yagura, surrounded by flames and smoke
Osaka Tondo Festival is the biggest fire festivals in Osaka. And as such, it has become an integral part of Osaka’s culture. For those who wish to attend the festival, it is always good to plan ahead. The festival is always organised on the same day and same place every year, 19:30 pm on a Saturday in January at the Senritenjin Shrine, also known as Kamishindenten Shrine. The shrine is only 850 meters from the Senri-Chuo train station, which is located on the other edge of Osaka. It is quite far from the center of Osaka, however it is accessible by public transportation. For more information, feel free to visit their website.
1 Chome-17-1 Kamishinden, Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture 560-0085