Nachi-no-Hi Matsuri or known also as Nachi-Ogi Matsuri (the Fan Festival) is held at Yoshino-Kumano National Park every year on July 14. The festival includes 12 vermilion mikoshi (portable shrines) which stand at about 6 meters tall. All the mikoshi are decorated with golds, mirrors and 12 ceremonial torches are attached together with the mikoshi.
The festival is celebrated at Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine, a Shinto Shrine which is also listed in the UNESCO World Heritage list. The Shrine is located at base of Japan’s tallest waterfall, Nachi-no-Otaki. It is a 133 meters high and 13 meters wide waterfall and is visible from far out on the Pacific Ocean.
At the Kumano Nachi-taisha Shrine, the waterfall itself is the object of worship and is regarded as a deity. During the festival, you can enjoy viewing the mystical scene of 12 huge 50-kg pine torches waved around so very close to these portable shrines that it appears as if the portable shrines are about to be scorched.
The enormous pine torches represent the 12 deities dwelling in Kumano as well as the 12 months of the year. The portable shrines, which are produced in the image of the sacred falls, are filled with the spirits of the 12 gods, and then purified by the fire of the pine torches; in this manner, vitality is enhanced through these sacred rituals, which is one important objective of this festival.
In the afternoon the 12 Ogi mikoshi (‘fan portable shrines’) and the 12 big torches are carried towards the Hiryu Shrine near Nachi Waterfall. At first, a sacred ritual is held at the shrine. Then the torches are lit at the the base of Nachi Waterfall. The torches are then carried up and down in ritual procession to purify the portable shrines, which are also purified by the mist coming off the waterfall itself. It is said that this is how the gods of Kumano make their annual journey to their original ‘palace’, the Nachi Waterfall, to revive themselves before returning to their shrines.
The festival is fantastic, you can feel the spray from the waterfall and you can feel the heat on your face from the torches – it is usually prudent to keep a safe distance as it is isn’t unusual for the fire bearers to lose control and singe a few spectators.
Origin and meaning of Nachi-no-hi Matsuri
Nachi-no-hi Matsuri is believed to have more than 1,500 years of history. It is believed that the deity of Kumano lays in the building of the shrine except 14th July.
Nachi No Hi Matsuri is a Shinto festival that honors the spirits associated with the nearby Nachi waterfall. The local people have venerated this beautiful waterfall-133 meters in height- for centuries. The nearby Kumano Nachi Grand Shrine provides a sanctuary for the local deities that sprang from the waterfall.
Shinto believers also worship spirits. These spirits include the souls of the departed, as well as kami that represent features of the natural landscape. Shinto spirituality emphasizes the sacredness of the natural world and promotes the worship of nature spirits as a means of forging deeper connections with the gods and with the processes of creation itself. These beliefs explain the existence of so many sacred sites in Japan. The Nachi waterfall is one of these sacred sites.
Participating in festivals is an important activity for Shinto believers. Festivals provide people with a means of honoring the gods and spirits, thereby drawing blessing to themselves. In addition to the nationally celebrated festivals, many towns and villages have their own festivals to honor local deities. Popular local festivals, such as the Nachi Fire Festival, may attract many people from other areas, as well as local residents.