February 10th was the Lunar New Year and on the 16th the Shujo Onie Festival was held to mark the occasion. It was held at 2 temples on the Kunisaki Peninsular and I was lucky enough to visit the one at Iwato-Ji. The action began after dark when to the accompaniment of ringing bells and blown conch shells pairs of accolytes ran down the hillside to where the mountain stream had carved a deep pool of water into which the men jumped.
later 4 huge firebrands, 4 to 5 meters in length, were carried down from the temple to a waiting fire where they were lit. Officially this is a buddhist festival at a Tendai temple, but historically its roots are in the unique form of Shugendo in this area.
Then the burning firebrands were carried through the torii and up the steps to the inner shrine area where ther e are caves where the shugenja practised shugyo and other buddhist halls where further ceremonies will take place..
The burning wood was followed by a procession of priests and musicians.
Later there would be much more..... demons (priests in masks) will be brought to life, perform some dances, and then beat all the onlookers with burning sticks. I believe this is to drive away demons and bring good luck for the new year. later still the demons visit all the houses in the community. Unfortunately it was getting late and I was finding the crowds too much so we left.....