A Flaming Start To The New Year
What would you do to start your New Year? Would you go to see an exciting show with friends, or would you prefer some warm and cozy family time? Here in Ota City, the Dondo-Yaki is the perfect event for both friends and families to celebrate the New Year and pray for good luck and a healthy life.
Each year, Ota organizes an event named “Dondo-Yaki” in celebration of the New Year. The origin of the event can be traced all the way back to the Heian period when nobilities burnt bamboo in their palace after the New Year for the purpose of divination. The custom survived over the years, and it eventually evolved to become a traditional event that is open for everyone to participate in.
The traditional event of Dondo-Yaki usually takes place on 14th or 15th January, the time Japanese people consider as the end of new year celebration. In Japanese tradition, decorations for New Year, such as the sacred Shimekazari (lucky charms) and pine branches, are used to attract the Gods to people’s homes. After the celebration ends, the proper way to dispose of the used decorations is to burn them, so that the Gods can return to heaven.
On the day of Dondo-Yaki, the locals build a stack using bamboo and pine branches and place used New Year decorations around the stack. If you are not in the mood to do heavy work, there are traditional drinks and light refreshments provided by friendly and welcoming locals. Before lighting the fire, representatives from each block of the neighborhood give a brief speech about the starting year and lead a group prayer for good luck. Then, Shinto priests will conduct the traditional ceremony of “Oharai”– to keep bad luck away from people.
Once the fire starts burning, the coldness of early January dissipates instantly. Standing more than 40 feet away from the fire, you can still feel the summer-like heat warming your body. Fire from the stack swaying, flames soaring into the sky, bidding goodbye to the departing gods in the warmest manner. It is said that good luck shall befall whoever the light of the fire shines upon, and their wishes shall come true in the New Year with the blessing of the departing Gods. Gazing at the glowing fire, reflected in each pair of eyes there is hope, yearning for their dreams to come true in a brand new year.
When the fire stops soaring and there is nothing but ashes left on the ground, the locals strap sweet potatoes on long bamboo sticks and barbecue them in the hot ashes. According to local beliefs, eating sweet potatoes baked in the ashes left from Dondo-yaki brings a year of good luck. Children running around, waiting impatiently for the delicious sweet potatoes to be done. Young lovebirds snuggle on each others’ shoulders as if they are witnessing their cheery future brewing in the heat. Elderly couples holding hands tightly while looking at the ascending smoke. You can see the happy smiles shining on faces even through the smoke. No matter the ethnicity, belief, language or nationality, every participant of the event finds happiness in the atmosphere.
In conclusion, the Dondo-Yaki event is perfect for families and friends, it is also a great opportunity to delve deeper into traditional Japanese culture. The event takes place on the green space under Tamagawa Rokugo Bridge, around 5 minutes away from Tokugodate Station on foot.
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A five-minute walk from Tokugodate Station.