Dondo yaki is a festival that’s celebrated mostly everywhere in Japan in the time of the “small new year” – after the moon calendar – around the 15th of
January. On this event, which is also called the “fire festival” the new year decorations are burnt. Used pine branches, sacred ropes, protection signs and hamaya (anti-demon-arrows) were thrown into a large fire while prayers and blessings are recited for a nearly perfect health and a long life. The scaffolding of the fire is made out of green bamboo and in the corners, between three large rods which are forming an open tower of wood straw is filled in to feed the flames. Into this little mountain of fire the decorations are thrown in, so they can burn to bring luck and health. Also the first calligraphy of the year is put into the fire therefore it can symbolically rise and bring progress to the people.
When the fire becomes weaker, “mochi” – small rice cakes, are grilled on bamboo sticks in the fire and can be eaten afterwards. Sometimes also the traditional lion dance is danced and music is played.
After it burnt down the ashes are taken home by the participants to protect their houses against evil spirits and demons. Therefore they place it in front of their entrance doors.
This festival is usually celebrated in Shinto shrines, as a ritual of faith. But recently it happens to be celebrated in schools, common places, and communities as well. But still “dondo yaki” is a sacred matter because the decorations for New Year and amulets which are burnt are things where the gods live inside.
But if you want to do it right, it have to be done in the night from the 14th to the 15th of January, welcoming the sunrise. But recently it occurs to be done on daytime, so the fire brigade can offer their support, as in some areas they don’t work at night.
Furthermore there is a problem of dioxin contamination, since sometimes people throw plastic and chlorine vinyl into the fire. But such waste isn’t allowed in “dondo yaki” as well as puppets, clothes, things that belong to Buddhist altars, pottery, daily used goods, unburnable tings, photographs, food, tins and cans, things made of glass, actually nothing that has no relationship to the Shinto faith.
Although it officially has to be practiced on another mentioned day, we already did it on the 6th of January in Joyo.