“Hiyondori” Fire Dance in Kawana
The Hiyondori folk dance from the mountainous Kawana region of Hamamatsu City is a local tradition which prays to the gods for a bountiful harvest and prosperous offspring and has been designated as a National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property. Its name, “Hiyondori”, is said to be derived from the term “hiodori”, meaning fire dance.
The traditional dances date back approximately 600 years and are performed every year on January 4 at the Yakushido hall of Fukumanji Temple. Alongside the particularly impressive “taitoboshi & hidori” dance which is performed when entering the hall, the line-up also boasts masked dances, sword dances, and lion dances.
Firstly, a group of topless young men called “hidori” purify themselves in a nearby river and line up at the entrance of the hall in effort to provide protection. Then, a priest, or “taitoboshi”, approaches the young men whilst holding a torch and waves the flame to fight his way past. They raise their hands and use their bodies to protest against the flames advance and engage in a back-and-forth with the flame-wielding priest. Once the flame prevails and is placed on the floor of the hall, the hidori rush to extinguish the blaze with ropes. The whole spectacle is said to be a rite of passage into adulthood as the young men experience the divinity and power of fire.
Whilst the past few years have seen the festival cancelled or held on a much smaller scale due to COVID-19 pandemic, a full-sized version is expected to return this coming January. Students from a local university have recently joined the festival efforts by bringing the festival into the digital age with a live stream of the festivities. We hope that this addition of young people will help ensure the longevity of this peace-praying tradition for many years to come.