The head shrine for the 30,000 plus Inari Shrines around the country, Fushimi Inari attracts a great number of visitors from around Japan, and many come to Kyoto to participate in the Ōhitaki Fire Festival.
The first part of the ritual begins in the shrine’s main hall with offerings of food, drink and prayers, and priestesses perform a sacred kagura dance for the gods. From there everyone moves to a clearing where three bonfires have been set up and are simultaneously lit. When the smoke clears priests begin throwing bundles of prayer sticks in to fires with large, dramatic tosses, scattering the wishes of Inari shrine visitors in to the fire. A copy of the purification prayer is passed out in the crowd so that any attendee can join in on wishing for everyone’s good health and fortune, as well as the country’s prosperity.
The heat and flames provide a dramatic backdrop as priests undertake cleansing rituals in front of each fire, using water, salt, and sakaki leaves, and sacred kagura dances are performed intermittently by priestesses carrying golden bells until the last prayer stick is tossed in to the fire. Held in autumn, it’s said that this ritual fire calls Inari to come back to the mountain from the fields to rest after harvest.