Saito Goma Fire Ceremony in Hongu

Yamabushi mountain priests in action

By Alena Eckelmann    - 1 min read

Fire ceremonies at shrines and temples have become popular attractions but they have a deep symbolic meaning that only the initiated fully understand. Fire, like water, has purifying qualities and it is much used in Shinto and Buddhist ceremonies, as well as in Shugendo ceremonies. Shugendo, literally "the path of training and testing" is a Japanese mystical-spiritual tradition of pre-Feudal origin. Followers of Shugendo, typically referred to as yamabushi, or "one who lies in the mountains", are masters of Saito Goma, or Great Fire Ceremony, performed outdoors. Without understanding the meaning of all actions, these fire ceremonies are unique experiences that touch all six senses. This fire ceremony takes place at the Kumano Hongu Taisha spring festival in April each year.

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Alena Eckelmann

Alena Eckelmann @alena.eckelmann

Celebrating my 10th year anniversary in Japan in May 2018, the country that I call home now. I lived in crazy Tokyo for 6 years and since 2011 I call the Kii Peninsula (Kumano, Koyasan and Yoshinoyama) my home. I have visited all 47 prefectures of Japan and for the last 4 years I have worked as a guide for foreign visitors. My special interest is in Japanese nature and spirituality. I love spending time in the forest and mountains and I love visiting temples and shrines. I am also a licensed guide for the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trails and for Koyasan, the Buddhist monastery, in addition to being a practitioner and guide for Shinrin Yoku (Forest Therapy).   In recent years I have taken visitors to walk the Kumano Kodo trails, the Nakasendo trail, the 88 temple pilgrimage trail around Shikoku Island and to Dewa Sanzan, the three sacred mountains in Yamagata Prefecture. If you look for nature and spirituality in your trip to Japan, then Wakayama, Nara and Yamagata Prefectures are ideal places to get started!