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Hiwatari Shinji



Hiwatari Shinji (火渡り神事)
Daisho-in Temple, Miyajima (大聖院 広島県宮島町)

The impressive Hiwatari Shinji takes place in the grounds of Daisho-in Temple at the foot of Mt Misen on the sacred island of Miyajima. This Buddhist fire-walking ritual begins with a drum beating chorus followed by a long procession of Shingon Buddhist monks who build a bonfire from the eternal holy fire. Wooden tablets inscribed with prayers and wishes are ritually burned and sutras are chanted. Once the flames have died down the fire is raked out and salt is spread on the hot coals at each end. Then the monks walk barefoot over the glowing coals. Praying for health and good fortune hundreds of pilgrims then follow in their footsteps and emerge unscathed - although the unluckier ones occasionally suffer a few blisters. 

One origin of fire walking can be found in a myth about a goddess who was questioned by her husband to prove her innocence by setting on fire their house without getting scorched. The common motive is that the innocent and pure will not be touched by fire. It is said that if you have a guilty conscience the ember becomes hot. When I tried asked by a mountain monk it was not as hot as I expected, partly because they helped me by scattering ashes on the ember. The monks might have thought my conscience needed such help. 

Witnessing this ancient ritual is a powerful experience and those brave enough to walk are welcome to do so. Fire walking is considered by many to be an effective tool for moving beyond one's fears, thus achieving personal growth. However, some people have been badly injured when attempting without proper instruction.

Majority of Buddhists in Japan practices the Shingon sect of Buddhism which was introduced in the country in 809 by Kobo Daishi. He mastered Buddhism in Tang China and began meditating at Mt Misen. An eternal fire, first lit by Kobo Daishi, still burns at the sacred mountain.