After we had seen Big Buddha, we walked around the park some and then went over to where there was going to be a special festival that night. It is called "Omizu-tori" which stands for "Water-Drawing Ceremony". I have no clue why they call it anything to do with water, because it is all about fire! (I apologize in advance for my blurry photos--it was the best I could get with my point-and-shoot. If you click on a photo you can see a larger version)
We had to wait a couple of hours for the ceremony to start so we chatted with a man who was standing next to us. He had spent some years in South America and spoke some Spanish, so we communicated partly in broken English, Spanish, and Japanese. It was fun to interact with the locals and he had some interesting stories to tell.
It was so very cold there and it was snowing agin! We got some hot drinks from a vending machine to keep warm. They sell hot coffe and chocolate in cans from the machines there. We bought a couple extra to put in our pockets, too! I was shivering and just about to freeze to death, but we really wanted to see the ceremony so we stayed!
The ceremony is a purification ritual and anyone who is touched by the ash or embers is especially lucky. This ritual is said to purify a person for the whole year. (anyone who knows about this ceremony, please correct me if I make any mistakes). Look carefully at the covered walkway to the left of the tree in the top photo. That is where the ceremony began with participants carrying huge, flaming torches up the stairs. I don't know how they got the torches up there without burning down the wooden structure, but since they've done it for centuries, they must be experts!
As soon as it got dark everything started. My giudebook says it's a very solemn occasion, but it really was more of a festival atmosphere. Especially once the fire started, there were so many "oohs!" and "aahs!" that I felt like I was at a Disneyland fireworks show!
What happens is that a torch is carried up the stairs to the second floor of the temple. Then they run the torch along the balcony so everyone can see. When they get to the end, there is already another torch coming. As they carry it they periodically stop and shake the torch so the embers will fly off.
Now I know you're envisioning a small torch like Indianna Jones would carry, but this thing was huge. Big enough that I probably couldn't hold it! And there were times when baseball and melon-sized fireballs would fall to the ground with the embers. It truly was a spectacle.