Gokoku Shrine’s annual tondo bonfire festival coincided with the biggest snowfall to hit the city in a generation.
The tondo festival at Gokoku Shrine, next to Hiroshima Castle, is the one we always recommend to visitors who want to experience this fiery regional new year celebration but who don’t have local connections.
It’s always held on the same date (January 15) no matter what day of the week on which that may fall, overseas visitors don’t stick out like a sore thumb (actually of course they do, but there is less wondering what the heck they are doing there) and they dish out roasted mochi rice cakes to all comers.
This year, however, the bonfire festival coincided with the biggest snowstorm to hit the city center in a generation. As the snow was piling up in our garden, we called the shrine office to see if the festival was going ahead as planned. Yes, said the woman on the end of the phone matter-of-factly. So it was boots on and off to the shrine.
Tondo is always an impressive affair, but the driving snow made for an even more memorable, if chilly, experience.
The snow had been coming down steadily for some time before the festival started at 10am.
The huge, carefully constructed bonfire of bamboo on which the previous year’s lucky talismans would be burnt stood in shrine’s forecourt.
Maiko shrine maidens sheltered priests with umbrellas during the ceremonial lighting of the bonfire.
The snow made it a little trickier to get things going, but the bonfire was soon popping and crackling.
Lucky talismans, their job now done, went up in smoke.
Specialists in garb traditional and non-traditional kept the flames under control and sharpshooters with water guns skillfully doused hot debris flying towards the onlookers.
There was a break in the weather and the skies cleared for a while as box after box of charms and votive goods were tossed onto the flames.
And, finally, as the flames started to die down it was time to roast mochi rice cakes over the red hot embers.