Sacred Ritual of Dondo-Yaki in the Heian Era
Join the traditional Torigoe Shrine Tondoyaki ceremony, a cherished Tokyo event in January where locals gather to burn New Year decorations and pray for good fortune and blessings.
The Heian period in Japan, from 794-1185 A.D., was rich with cultural and religious traditions. Tondoyaki, or Dondo-Yaki as it was initially known, stands prominent among these practices. Traditionally held on January 15, this ritual involves the proper disposal of New Year’s decorations through burning, which occurs predominantly at Shinto Shrines around the country.
Role of New Year Decorations in Dondo-yaki
New Year’s decorations play a significant part in welcoming the Toshigami – the god of the New Year – into Japanese homes. Items typically used include amulets, sacred rope decorations (small rice straw ropes), and kakizome – the first customary calligraphy or picture drawn in the year.
According to traditional belief, simply discarding these embellishments in general waste could invoke bad luck. Thus, they diligently delivered for Dondo-yaki to bid farewell to Toshigami and anticipate the future.
The Ceremony at Torigoe Shrine
Torigoe Shrine hosts Tondoyaki—one variant of Dondo-yaki—where locals bring their used New Year’s decorations for ceremonial incineration. From the 5th to the 8th of January each year, participants compile their old shimenawa ropes and hamaya arrows at the shrine.
The ritual begins on the event day between 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., involving a massive bonfire where all collected items are burnt amidst a ceremonial performance. The ceremony includes children playing drums while chanting “Tondo! Tondo!”
Beliefs Surrounding Tondoyaki
In addition to properly disposing of decorations, this event is associated with auspicious beliefs. It is understood that when smoke from the bonfire engulfs an observer, they are likely to enjoy good health throughout the subsequent year.
Another highlight of this event involves toasting mochi rice cakes over the fire, which is slated to ensure one’s well-being for upcoming times.
Tondoyaki under Pandemic Constraints
Given the current pandemic-induced restrictions, several changes have been incorporated into this year’s Tondoyaki at Torigoe Shrine. Participants can still engage in mochi-toasting. However, they must carry it home for consumption instead of enjoying it at the venue.
Concluding Note: An Opportunity for Purification
Believed by many as an opportunity for purification against potential misfortunes during an ongoing year, participating in Tondoyaki is considered a divine experience. Observing a towering fire blazing against biting winter winds has been depicted as akin to witnessing spectacles of celestial order.
For individuals intending to offer up their sacred ropes or amulets, directives suggest bringing them tomorrow morning (January 8) due to COVID-19 accommodations restricting an elaborate performance this year.
Immerse yourself in the mystical ambiance of Torigoe Shrine Tondoyaki, while enjoying the enchanting Tokyo Dome City Winter Lights, an awe-inspiring fusion of tradition and illuminating splendor.