Kyoto Shimbun 2006.12.31 News

Flame a beacon for a New Year's wishes
"Okera-mairi" at Yasaka Shrine

The "Okera-mairi" annual event took place on the night of December 31 at Yasaka Shrine in Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, and visitors prayed for health and happiness in the coming year. The precincts were crowded with worshipers who swung ropes lit from the sacred fire so the embers would not burn out until they were taken home.

"Okera" is a kind of medicinal herbs. It is believed that if an ember lit from burning Okera is offered to the household altar or used for cooking "Zouni," or soup with rice cakes and vegetables, on New Year's Day, the family will be blessed with sound health and peace over the year. Visitors carrying home the sacred flame are a picturesque symbol of the shrine's most popular event connecting New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

Once "Joya-sai," or New Year's Eve ritual, which started at 7:00 p.m., was finished, sacred fires were lit on three "Toro" lanterns in the precincts. Visitors holding "Kitcho-nawa," or ropes made of bamboo fibers, in their hands kindled the tips of the ropes, then took them home carefully so the delicate embers would not burn out.

(translated by Galileo, Inc.)

Photo= Visitors kindling "Kitcho-nawa" from a sacred fire (Yasaka Shrine, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto)