Shōreisai (松例祭) - The Fire Festival

Shōreisai (松例祭) is one of the most significant festivals amongst the annual events of Yamabushi (山伏) here at Mt. Haguro, conducted in prayer for peace, safety, and rich harvest for the upcoming year. Designated as a significant intangible folk cultural asset by the Japanese government, the festival is held through the night from New Year's Eve, Dec. 31st until New Year's Day, Jan. 1st, earning itself the alias "Toshiya Matsuri (歳夜祭)", New Year's Eve Festival. The series of ritual at this festival marks the completion of the vows made for Fuyu-no-mine (冬の峰), the ascetic practices conducted during the 100 days prior to the festival by two highly respected and chosen practitioners of Haguro Shugendō (羽黒修験道) called Matsuhijiri (松聖) -- Ijō (位上) and Sendo (先途).

At Shōreisai, groups of youth from the district are divided into each side of Matsuhijiri compete against each other through various rituals. Tōge (手向) district at the entrance to Mt. Haguro is currently divided into ten settlements. However, the youth participating in Shōreisai is divided into eight groups following its traditional town designation: Koubako-chō, Sakurakōji, Shimonagaya-chō, Kamei-chō, Tsurusawa-chō, Ikenonaka, Irie-chō, and Yōka-machi. The participants residing in the first four are grouped as Kamiyonchō (上四町) whereas the last four are grouped as Shimoyonchō (下四町). Out of the two Matsuhijiri (松聖), one with closer residential area to Mt. Haguro compared to the other, is appointed to lead the youth in Kamiyonchō, while the other Matsuhijiri living farther from the mountain serves as the leader of Shimoyonchō. Thus, all rituals are conducted in forms of competition between the Ijō side and the Sendo side throughout the festival.

15:00 Tsunamaki (綱まき) (Location: Teijō, Ritual Ground)

The first ritual of this festival is Tsunamaki, cutting and scattering of ropes of which originally used to form the torch which is the large mimic resembling Tsutsugamushi, (ツツガムシ) harvest mites; these actions represent scission and extermination or evil spirits. The two Matsuhijiri get on the torches as they sound the conch shells to indicate the beginning of the ritual. Then, they scatter the ropes, Kiridsuna (切綱) towards the crowd who wish to bring them home to hang under the eaves, which is believed to serve as a talisman against fire and evil spirits. In recent years, sumo wrestling has been taken place to determine which individual entitles to bring the ropes home in order to avoid injuries among participants struggling for ropes.

15:00 Ōharaishiki (大祓式) (Location: Sanshūden, Subsidiary Building)

16:00 Joyasai (除夜祭) (Location: Honden, Main Building)

18:00 Shōreisai Honden-sai (松例祭本殿祭) & Hachiko Jinja-sai (蜂子神社祭)
(Locations: Shōreisai Honden-sai @Honden, Main Building / Hachiko Jinja-sai @Hachiko Shrine)

18:00 Ōtaimatsu Marukinaoshi (大松明まるき直し) (Location: Teijō, Ritual Ground)

Once the sun sets, groups of youth divided into Ijō side and Sendo side retrieve and reconstruct the torches (Ōtaimatsu) dismantled and fragmented during the Tsunamaki ritual in the afternoon. This part of the ritual connotes the revival of harvest mites after the sunset when darkness surrounds the area. Hence, the torches are meant to be burnt down at the Ōtaimatsu ritual (Ōtaimatsu-hiki) later at night.

19:00 Tsunasabaki (綱さばき) (Location: Shitsuraeya, Equipped House)
Youth leaders of each town group and others gather at Shitsuraeya (Equipped House) to request and compete for superior ropes to pull the Ōtaimatsu at Ōtaimatsu-hiki (pulling of large torch). Hikidsuna (引き綱), the ropes, are classified according to which part of the torch they are attached to. Holders of each rope are determined through heated discussion between the leaders as they drink together.

20:30 Sunahaki-watashi (砂はき渡し) / Iwaizake (祝酒)* (Location: Shitsuraeya, Equipped House)

Sunahaki (砂はき), a festive tool resembling a snow shovel, is awarded by Matsuhijiri to both Tsunatsuke (綱付, who is given the role of attaching the ropes to the torch at Ōtaimatsu-hiki and also will serve as Tsunanobe the next year) and Tsunanobe (綱延, the youth who will be digging a hole into the snow to burn the torch, who has served as Tsunatsuke the year before). Iwaizake (祝酒) is served at this ritual. *sunahaki-watashi = conferment of sunahaki / iwaizake = celebratory drink

21:00 Kennawa (験縄) / Sunahaki (砂はき) (Location: Teijō, Ritual Ground)

Kennawa: measuring distance using ropes and determining the locations to dig holes into the snow
Sunahaki: digging holes in places where the torches are to be set on fire

21:10 Shutsuyaku (出役) / Gojōmoku (御掟目) (Location: Shitsuraeya, Equipped House)

Shutsuyaku: actors make an appearance before the altar
Gojōmoku: reading aloud the prepared agreements called Gojōmoku (御定目) towards leaders of the youth to promote fair conduct of all rituals throughout the festival.

22:45 Genkurabe (験競) / Ōtaimatsu-hiki (大松明引き)
(Locations: Genkurabe @Honden, Main Building / Ōtaimatsu-hiki @Teijō, Ritual Ground)

Genkurabe (験競), competition of religious force takes place at the main shrine building where total of twelve Yamabushi (山伏) belonging to the two Matsuhijiri engage in Karasutobi (鳥とび, flying of crows) and Usagi-no-shinji (兎の神事, ritual of hares). Subsequently, the participants once again divide into Ijō side and Sendo side and move on to Ōtaimatsu-hiki, where each group attaches the ropes, Hikidsuna (引き綱) to the torch to pull, grind, and burn it into the hole of snow created at Sunahaki. The degree of the torch burning at this time is used to predict the quality of harvest (agriculturte) and catch (fishery) for the upcoming year.

00:00 Kuniwake-shinji (国分神事), Hi-no-uchikae-shinji (火の打替神事), & Shōjinsai (昇神祭)
(Locations: Kuniwake-shinji & Hi-no-uchikae-shinji @Teijō, Ritual Ground
        Shōjinsai @Shitsuraeya, Equipped House)

Kuniwake-shinji, or Kuniwake Ritual, performed past midnight in the middle of severe cold, represents the process of which determined the national territory once upon a time. Participants compete in speed to start purified and brand new fire for the New Year at Hi-no-uchikae-shinji, or New Fire Ceremony. Shojinsai is conducted immediately after the result of New Fire Ceremony is reported to the chief priest of the shrine in the Main Building as well as the two Matsuhijiri awaiting at Shitsuraeya, the Equipped House. The two Matsuhijiri then receive words of appreciation from the chief priest as well as the staff members of the shrine and join the celebratory banquet called Nishi-no-sushi (にしの寿司) at Saikan (斎館). The festival comes to an end as they descend the front approach of the mountain to head home.

*The front approach is expected to be covered with heavy snow during this season, so at the time of the festival. Due to safety concerns, we highly recommend all visitors to use the other routes and methods of transportation than walking. We hereby clarify that we do not possess any intention and/or authority to ultimately restrain any individuals from using the front approach. The above mentioned regarding the front approach and its possible inaccessibility due to snow is solely a friendly reminder. Each individual is primarily responsible for his or her own safety.

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