Takaosan Fire-Walking Festival

Takaosan or Mount Takao is a mountain located in western Tokyo and only about 50 minutes away from Shinjuku by train, making it a popular hiking spot and a pleasant day trip to a natural environment close to central Tokyo.

It has been regarded as a sacred mountain for a long time and every year on a second Sunday of March, the fire-walking festival or Hiwatari-matsuri is held. There is a traditional belief in Shingon Buddhism that fire has the power to cleanse. The annual festival consists of the ceremonious lighting of the pyre and participants walking across burning coals in order to purify body and soul. We were so curious when we heard about it and couldn’t resist the urge to witness this rare festival!

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Since the festival was in the afternoon, we took the opportunity to explore Takaosan and spent our morning getting to the summit. We decided to take the cable car halfway up the mountain and hike from there which took us about 50 minutes. It was a cold and rainy day but we finally made our way to the top with one stopping at Yakuoin temple to make a prayer for better weather for the rest of the day.

After an enjoyable lunch, we walked back to the station, took the cable car back down and excitedly went straight to the festival’s venue. Luckily, the rain had stopped by the time we got there and we managed to secure a good watching spot on a small hill next to the main stage!

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The grand Yakuoin temple located along the hiking trail
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On the top of Takaosan
 Before the festival started
Before the festival started
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja
Arrival of the monks or Shugenja

After a long chanting and some ritual processes, the pyre was lit and it was an exciting sight to see. We could feel the fire’s warmth even though we stood further away from the center. The walk began from the monks when the fire had reduced itself to smoking ashes. After the monks have crossed, the path was opened to the audiences who wish to try fire-walking. The line was incredibly long and we waited for nearly half an hour until it was our turn. Whether you are a Buddhist or not, or whether you just watch or walk the fire yourself, the ceremony can be enjoyed equally so make sure to give it a try next year!

The lighting bonfire
The lighting bonfire

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The monks (top) and participants (bottom) walking through the path of embers

by Kate P.

The biggest winter illumination in Kanto: Sagamiko Illumination

Japan is a country that seems to love illuminations. Especially in winter, many large-scale illuminations can be seen at various locations across the country. Among the most famous illumination events in Kanto area, the Sagamiko Illumination is widely known as the largest and the longest running one!

This year, it incorporates over 5 million LED lights in a wide range of colors and utilizes new production of music and light constructions to create a magical world. We went to enjoy this spectacular illumination on the last day of February and here are some photos from our trip.

1A Christmas tree at the entrance with giant Ferris wheel in the background.

2Entering the venue, we were greeted with a sight of purple and pink carpets covering the hillsides.

3One of the slopes was blanketed with colorful flowers. 

4A long tunnel decorated with blinking rainbow lights.

5The ocean of blue lights with sea creatures (Can you spot a whale in this photo?)

6The chairlift took us to the mountain top where we could enjoy the scenery from a different viewpoint.

7There was also a giant swing ride for the adventure-seeker.

 

8The not-to-be-missed Palace of Light exhibition, an animated light show accompanied by music and dancing water fountain.

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For anyone who wants to catch this last bit of winter illumination, it is held on weekends and holidays from 6PM until April 12th. Entrance ticket costs 600 yen and round-trip ticket for chairlift costs 400 yen. The journey takes about 1-2 hours from central Tokyo. The nearest train station is Sagamiko station from where you can take bus no.21 to the park. There is also direct bus which departs from Shinjuku but advanced reservation is required via telephone or internet.

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by Kate P.

 

Escape to a deserted island, Sarushima

We are always on the lookout for new and interesting places to visit from Tokyo, and were excited to learn about Sarushima from this article from rocketnews24.com. WOW, what a pleasant surprise!

1) A deserted, all-natural island and…
2) An atmosphere that just like the one from the famous Miyazaki animation, “Castle in the Sky – Laputa”

That’s like all things good wrapped in one bundle. Well, we just had to make a trip there! And off we did!

The island is located in Tokyo Bay, but is part of Yokosuka city. Yokosuka is known as the town of little U.S. due to the large number of US Navy bases in town. The atmosphere in this town is quite different from the typical Japanese town anywhere else!

"Navy burger" at TGI FRIDAYS...American-sized big burger!!!
“Navy burger” at TGI FRIDAYS…American-sized big burger!!!
Near by the port, there's an old battle ship, called Mishima. Now this ship is used as an exhibition.
Near by the port, there’s an old battleship, called Mishima. Now this ship is used as an exhibition.

From Mikasa port in Yokosuka, it is a short 10 minutes boat ride to Sarushima. That’s much closer than I had expected!

Escape to the deserted island.. only 10 minutes away! :P
Escape to the deserted island.. only 10 minutes away! 😛
As read on the Internet, the atmosphere on the island is exactly what I imagined Laputa to be like!
As read on the Internet, the atmosphere on the island is exactly what I imagined Laputa to be like!

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It took us about 1-2 hours to walk around the island. Pretty good for some easy hiking!
It took us about 1-2 hours to walk around the island. Pretty good for some easy hiking!

Even though it is just another Sunday, discovering a new place and meeting and laughing with friends from all over the world made a perfect holiday for me. It was relaxing to get out of the city and enjoy the timelessness of the forests of Sarushima.

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And apparently, I heard that it is possible for us to have a barbecue in summer… Isn’t that a great reason for us to go back again? 😛


by Tammy Fukaya