Happy new year! The beginning of the year is always exciting for me. I’m not into the parties and all, but I love the feeling of the new year being a blank canvas for me to paint on. As always, I review my goals and last year I totally rocked my travel goal! I started off last year’s travel goal with a bang by traveling to Japan and experiencing the Chinkasai Fire Festival on the island of Miyajima.
I visited Miyajima the year before and it stole my heart. Seriously! If you had to pick just one place to visit in Japan, Miyajima would be it! It’s home to the Itsukushima Shrine, a UNESCO world heritage site. The huge torii gate in the sea is definitely worth the short boat ride to get to this island but there is so much more to see and do on the island.
The festival atmosphere on Miyajima is amazing and hoards of people will be traveling between the island all day long. The ferry runs about every 10 minutes so there is a constant stream of people coming through. There are so many things to see here, and you can even stay in a Japanese style inn called a ryokan. It’s a little pricy, but offers a unique experience. The island itself has few stores, with most stalls only opening during large festivals and vacation periods. It is very popular for having beautiful foliage during the Autumn months. I can definitely vouch that the colored leaves are almost too beautiful to be real.
The island is nicknamed the shrine island for a reason, the inhabitants here worship and cater to the massive amount of shrines. You could spend all day going through and looking at them all!
On new year’s eve, they hold the Chinkasai Fire Festival to bring in the new year. This festival is nothing like you’ve ever seen before… it might even scare you a little! The festival starts with a shinto ritual in front of the Itsukushima Shrine to ward off fire catastrophes. Young men in groups come armed with huge torches and watch as bonfires are lit around the area.
After the fires are lit, the excitement begins! Each group has a very large torch, and their goal is to light their torch the fastest so they can walk with it. All of the guys run around with smaller sticks to light from the bonfire then return to their large torch to light it. It felt so dangerous, but exciting at the same time! There were many firefighters watching but they couldn’t really control the hoards of men running to light their torch.
The torches have a symbolic meaning, and if you light your torch from the sacred fire you should take it to your home to protect it from any fire-related problem. Many vendors were on hand to sell you little sticks that you could light from the fires and take home with you. I saw a lot of children running after the torches excitedly to light their own. They were so cute!
After the torches were all lit, the real craziness began! The torches were very heavy, requiring a lot of people to carry it. Most had 20-30 people carrying the torch. Everyone was so festive and rushing to light their small sticks from the big torches. It was madness!
Then the groups of men started to run with the torches on fire, even swinging it around like a game. I got a little scared at this point because they were whipping it around really crazy and a few times I was so close I almost got burnt! It was a little hectic with everyone running around.
Even though it was a little scary, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. It was strange, but it was definitely exciting to see such huge torches lit on fire in the dark of the night with people running happily all around. Compared to what most people do on new year’s eve, it was definitely unique! The Chinkasai Fire Festival is something to be experienced at least once.
And with that, happy new year to you all! I truly appreciate each and every view, comment, follow and like that I receive. I’ve really enjoyed sharing my life with everyone this year, and I can’t wait to bring even more to my blog in 2015. May all of our wishes come true. 🙂