Why You Need To Visit The Ohitaki Autumn Fire Festival In Saga, Japan
A beautiful shrine, food, and lucky charms—everything you need to know about the Ohitaki festival in Saga, Japan, which was visited by Pia Wurtzbach for 'Pia’s Postcards'
When it comes to traveling, Japan is always at the top of anyone’s list. It is home to amazing tourist spots, great food, and a beautiful culture. But when we hear about Japan, it’s always Tokyo, Osaka, and Hokkaido.
But did you know that there’s also an interesting destination in one of the less mainstream prefectures of Japan?
Saga is located in the northwest part of the Kyushu island, touching both the Ariake Sea and the Sea of Japan. It’s famous for its ceramics and porcelain, and the Karatsu castle, which attracts tourists to the prefecture.
But one of the best things to visit Saga for are its festivals. While it has a number of festivals throughout the year, one of the must-visit but rarely publicized festivals in the area is the Ohitaki Festival or Fire Festival held in the autumn. Pia Wurtzbach visits Saga in a brand new episode of Pia's Postcards to check out what happens at the Ohitaki Festival and how to make the most out of it.
A celebration of culture and history
In Japan, tradition is everything. And the Ohitaki Festival has a rich and long history dating back to 330 years ago, when the Yutoku Inari Shrine was built. The festival started out as an agricultural ceremony to close the year and welcome the upcoming year. But now, it has evolved into a full-blown festival happening from sunset to night, where people believe the big fire lit during the festival can cure diseases and purify foulness.
The festival is held during the first week of December at the Yutoku Inari Shrine, and is offered to the god of the shrine, Inari. He is originally known as the god of bumper crops and agriculture, but is now also known to be the god of prosperous business.
At the end of the festival, sweet sake made from rice that’s harvested at the shrine’s rice field is given out to visitors.
The shrine is breathtaking
The festival has always been held at the Yutoku Inari Shrine, and the shrine is one of the 3 major shrines in Japan that’s dedicated to Inari. Some 2.8 million people visit the shrine each year and it’s open to the public all year round, even at night when it’s lit up.
It’s also famous for the abundance of flowers that serves as a colorful background to the astounding structures of the temple. While it’s nice to visit the Yutoku Inari Shrine during the spring when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom, it’s also spectacular to visit during the autumn in time for the festival when the momiji or Japanese maple turn red in color.
Get good luck charms
One of the most popular customs of japan is the omamori, or Japanese amulets and talisman sold at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. These talisman come in different forms and are said to provide different kinds of luck and protection. And you can, of course, buy these charms from the Yutoku Inari Shrine.
It is customary, however, to return the charms and talismans you bought back to the shrine at the end of the year. This is also one of the highlights of the Ohitaki Festival: a 6-meter-high fire bed called oyama is erected at the center of the shrine for the festival, which would continue burning throughout the night. This oyama is not only made from bamboo—it is also made from the old talismans and amulets returned to the shrine. It is believed that charms should not just be disposed, but burned as a sign of respect to the deity that assisted the person who bought the charm.
Food and souvenir stalls
At the same time of the Ohitaki festival, food stalls are erected outside the shrine for visitors and tourists to enjoy Japanese street food like takoyaki. A Kashima City Specialities Festival is also held at the Sanshuden Square inside the shrine alongside the Ohitaki festival, where various specialty products of Saga are showcased and sold. Since the Ohitaki festival is mainly a celebration of the bountiful autumn harvest, this is the best place to get your hands on the freshest and most authentic produce of the prefecture.
Some of the food stuff sold at the specialties festival are nori, tea, sake, vegetables, and kamaboko (boiled fish paste). Saga’s traditional crafts like the Furyumen Mask and Kashima Nishiki Textiles are also displayed and showcased. There will be plenty of top-quality produce and Japanese souvenir items here so make sure your yen and eco bags are ready.