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Tondoyaki, a Japanese Ritual of Renewal

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2023.12.28 (Thu)

By Dan Lewis, inbound tourism adviser and consultant, long-term Japan resident & outdoor activity enthusiast.

In the rich tapestry of Japanese traditions, Tondoyaki stands out as a unique post-New Year event. This time-honored ritual involves bidding farewell to the deities (Toshigami) who brought good fortune to homes during the New Year. Rooted in cultural beliefs, participants contribute sacred items, seeking divine power to purify the coming year from potential misfortunes. The flames symbolize not just a ritual but a spiritual connection between the past and the future.

Dating back to ancient times, Tondoyaki has deep roots in Japanese culture. Every year on January 8th, at the venerable Torigoe Shrine, built in 651, people gather to burn New Year decorations, sacred ropes, and other items. This act is believed to ensure a year filled with good health and fortune. The ritual, observed across Japan with slight variations in names and methods, holds particular significance at Torigoe Shrine.

The Tondoyaki ceremony at Torigoe Shrine is a spectacle to behold. As the fire consumes the remnants of New Year's adornments, the smoke rises high above the ground. Children add to the fervor by circling the fire, striking it with bamboo sticks, creating a rhythmic beat. The climax of the event sees rice cakes suspended from the bamboo sticks being grilled and shared. It is a sensory experience that lingers in memory and tradition.

Amidst the crackling flames and billowing smoke, participants not only witness a visual spectacle but also partake in a spiritual tradition. Bathing in the smoke from the bonfire, they express their wishes for a year filled with good health and fortune. Tondoyaki is a bridge between the tangible and the divine, a moment to reflect on the passing of time and the cyclical nature of traditions.

To reach Torigoe Shrine, use Kuramae Station (Toei Subway Asakusa Line), Kuramae Station (Toei Subway Oedo Line), or Asakusabashi Station (JR Sobu Line).

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