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Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

  • Japan, with its rich spiritual history and traditions which have endured the passage of time, is a perfect travel destination for taking part in festivals or matsuri pretty much all year round. If you are willing to travel off the beaten path, Oita Prefecture and the Kunisaki Peninsula await with the Shujo Onie matsuri. This rare festival, held every February at Tennen-ji Shrine, has a long history even by Japanese standards, believed to have been started over 1,000 years. The locals gathered every year to invoke abundant harvests and good health for the year ahead and to take part in the rituals that involve water, rice cakes, demons, and a lot of fire.

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    This unique matsuri starts early on in the day, but from a traveler’s perspective, the best events start at 7pm and run until about 11pm. Once at Tennen-ji Shrine, be sure to pick a spot next to the river. It is here where a group of locals take a dip in the chilly waters and in front of the stone image of a demon called Kawanaka Fudo. The swim, which doesn’t last long, is the cleansing ritual that opens up the evening’s events and is just the preamble of what is to come in the following hours, which you can bet will be one of the most memorable events you’ve experienced. If you brought your camera along for the ride and are serious about getting the right shots, a flash might come in handy since the river area will be close to pitch black.

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    After receiving a blessing from the Tennen-ji monks and making a toast with a glass of local sake, the same men you caught almost naked in the river are now fully dressed and set to start lighting up three giant torches. Fire is one of the main ingredients of this ritual and from this point on, you ought to be ready to approach the burning flames. Once the lid’s up, the torches will be carried to the main shrine and knocked against the stone foundations of the building as a way to invoke good health and prosperity.

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    You can watch the action from the outside of the shrine or do as the locals do and pick a spot inside the wooden building. We recommend the latter making sure to grab a spot quickly as the space is limited and fills up quickly. Do bear in mind that being inside the shrine and partaking in the festivities means you will come within reach of the flames. It might sound scary at first but it is part of the tradition, and if you take the necessary precautions you’ll be able to enjoy the experience to the fullest.

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    Throughout the night, monks throw rice cakes and other luck charms at the crowd who vigorously compete to take one of these charms home. As this is happening a bond fire is kept going inside the shrine, and while you’re trying to process all of this, a couple of demons, one dressed in black and the other one in red, enter the main hall. These are good demons and rather then being chased away, they are invited in to provide the night’s blessing.

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    The climax of the evening is reach when the two demons walk around the narrow hallway and knocking the burning torches against the wooden beams, end up spreading the burning ashes on top of the ecstatic crowd. This is repeated several times and in various forms to invoke good health for the rest of the year. Word of caution, be sure your outfit is made out of cotton, your head is covered, and avoid wearing polyester, unless you want to take a burned jacket back home as a souvenir.

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    Shujo Onie Matsuri in Kunisaki Peninsula

    国東半島
    Address
    大分県国東市
    Phone
    天念寺修正鬼会
    Address
    大分県豊後高田市長岩屋下長岩屋
    Phone
    0978-22-3100
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