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Over the course of a year, we humans can accumulate a lot of mucky emotions. We inevitably forget the dangers that certain fiery passions, like anger and envy, can do to our psyches. In order to remind ourselves to retake control of these troublesome fires that burn within us, we must take a walk through physical flames and let the fear of literal fire burn away our emotional impurities.

At least, that’s the idea behind Fukugonji’s annual firewalking festival! Each year, on second Sunday of December, this Zen Buddhist temple in Aichi Prefecture invites all members of the public to step across their scorching coals and reclaim inner purity at the Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival. This year, the festival promises to be particularly entertaining, as well as spiritual and somewhat scary, as one might expect from firewalking.

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Fukugonji’s protective deity is named Akibasanjakubo. He was once an amazing monk but ascended to godhood upon his death. It is said that in his lifetime he attained control over the calamity of fire and is now capable of controlling both physical fire and the metaphysical flames that we harbor within. Every year the Akibasan Grand Festival is held at Fukugonji around the anniversary of Akibasanjakubo’s death and ascension.

The festival consists of two main parts: prayer and firewalking. Privately recited prayers and incantations are performed within the temple. Recitation of the “perfection of wisdom” prayer is followed by the chanting of a special mantra, which endows the strength and wisdom of Akibasanjakubo upon its listeners. Participants in this special rite are given charms to take home and to remember the teachings by.

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The firewalking is a much more public affair. It begins with people known as “devotees” chanting and moving around the flames. The current masters of the temple will walk between the flames, closely followed by the devotees. Then, members of the general public are invited to enter into the fire. Those who pass through the flames are said to have purified their hearts and minds upon crossing, as fear of the physical fire reminds people to control their inner flames as well.

But setting aside the spiritual stuff, what kind of festival would this be without some form of musical entertainment for everyone to enjoy? This year Fukugonji has arranged for a special performance by the world-famous taiko drumming group, Kodo. This group has given more than 3,500 performances across the entire globe since its debut in 1981. They incorporate their international experiences into their music, pushing the boundaries of this traditional Japanese art form and making the booming beats palatable to people from every background.

▼ For an audio introduction to Kodo, check out the video below!

So, whether you have an interest in spiritual cleansing, a desire for good drumming, or just a passion for pyrogenics, the Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival is a great place to visit this winter! Whether you warm your body by the brightly burning flames or sterilize your spirit with a purifying stroll across the embers is entirely up to you.

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Event information:
Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival
Date: December 8, 2013
Prayer: available between 11 A.M. to 7 P.M. for 5,000 yen (US$50)
Firewalking: starting around 4 P.M. Free to watch or 300 yen to participate
Address: Aichi-ken Komaki-shi Okusa 5229 Fukugonji

Images: Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival

▼ Here’s a Japanese YouTube video showing clips from the firewalking in previous years.

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