Omizutori: a Fiery Festival in Nara

  • NARA
  • EVENT
  • In Japan, there are many ways to repent of your sins, and these ways usually differ per place. In Nara Prefecture people observe a two-week long ceremony that serves as a repentance ritual, with the final observance known as ‘Omizutori’. It has its origins in the Buddhist belief that people need to try to cleanse themselves before the start of the spring season. It is held annually from March 1 to March 4.

    The Legend Behind the Ceremony

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    Omizutori is legendary known as a ceremony of the gods and is meant to cleanse yourself and ask for repentance. It arose when a priest named Jitchu made a journey deep into the mountains of Kasagi. On this quest, he was able to see celestial beings performing the ritual. He became so intrigued with the idea, that he decided to introduce it to the people on his way back. It was a hard task for him, but because of his willpower, he was able to transfer the gods’ ritual into the human world. He decided to do it by performing the ritual at a running speed, reaching 1,000 times daily. This process became known as Shuni-e, and Omizutori was one part of it.

    The origins of Omizutori is also spoken about in another legend. One day Jitchu invited thousands of gods, and one of the gods was late because he was fishing in the Onyu River. To make up for it, he offered some scented water from the river that could be used to make water suddenly spring up.

    What Happens During the Ceremony?

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    A lot of preparation goes into this festival, one of which is appointing eleven priests known as “Renhyoshu” as early as December of the year before. They are tasked with the cleaning of the ritual site, making circuit pilgrimages and preparing the necessary goods that are used for the event.

    On the morning of March 1st, torches are lit. In the evening, a ritual called ‘otaimatsu’ is held, where young ascetics wave large torches in the air. They try to draw large circles with it. People who watch the ritual are believed to be protected from evil things, especially if you are showered with the sparks that come from the fire.

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    On a different day, the rite of water drawing is held in which monks try to draw water that springs up in the well. Then they offer this to the deity who is believed to offer it to the people. The water is considered blessed, and it is said that it can even cure illness.

    Would you like to attend this impressive event one day? Then you should head over to Nara in the first week of March and go to the Todaiji temple, which is where the festival takes place.

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