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Friday, March 11, 2011

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Fire away: A Shinto torchlight ritual takes place at Aso Shrine.

KUMAMOTO

Mount Aso to be set ablaze as part of old farming ritual


By NATALIE KOCH
Staff writer

Each spring, residents of the towns surrounding Kumamoto Prefecture's Mount Aso gather to hold the Aso Fire Festival. Several events will be held as part of these festivities during March.

The main attraction is the dai himonjiyaki, an event, in which the mountain grass on Ojo peak (one of the five peaks of Mount Aso) is set on fire in order to form the shape of the kanji "hi" (fire). The 350-meter-tall flaming kanji is the largest of its kind in Japan. This ritual burning is called noyaki, which refers to the practice of setting fire to the plains in order to keep the grass in good condition.

Another event worth seeing is the hifuri shinji (Shinto torchlight ritual) in the precincts of Aso Shrine. In this particular ceremony, locals pray for a rich harvest and swing large, burning pine torches, which is definitely great for photographs. Brave visitors can even participate in this event.

For people who prefer a culinary experience, there will be plenty of Aso beef barbecue, prepared with original recipes from each town.

The dai himonjiyaki will take place March 12 on Mount Aso's Ojo peak at night. The hifuri shinji will take place March 18 at Ichinomiya Aso Shrine in Aso City, Kumamoto Prefecture. For further information, visit www.jnto.go.jp.


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