Donto Yaki in Utou Shrine, Aomori

Japanese people decorate their houses with ornaments around New Year’s Day, which is to welcome the God of the Year. After using those ornaments, you can’t just throw them away as trash. People take all used ornaments to the shrines or temples on the “Donto-yaki” fire festivel day to burn them. Those ornaments belong to the God and you can’t treat them rough, and by buring them we can return to the God up above. This custom is practiced around January 15 every year in all over Japan.

This year I went to Utou Shrine in Aomori-city to clear my used ornaments and old amulets.

Utou Shrine is located in the central Aomori, about 500m from JR Aomori station. This Shrine is the most popular place local people choose to visit for the first shrine visit of the New Year.

A pair of guardian lions’ eyes were….. covered with snow.

I wondered if they could do their job without seeing anything.

Actually it was my first time to visit the “Donto-yaki ” fire festival. I thought I could find the big bonfire burning used New Year’s ornaments, but they were not making a bonfire, just collecting all stuff people brought.

After placing your ornaments or old amulets in the designated area, you pay the fee. The price was not settled. You just decide the price by how much you would like to offer. Then I received a talisman(paper) and was told to burn it to ward off evil influences. People were making a line and were praying while burning their talisman.

After burning my talisman, I found the corner treating people with Sake(Japanese rice wine) and grilled rice cakes. It is said that if you drink the Sake or the rice cake prepared at Donto-yaki festival, you will not catch a cold and can stay healthy this year.

I couldn’t drink Sake because I was driving a car, but had a piece of grilled rice cake. Dipping sauce for the rice cake was “sugar and soy sauce”, simply dissolving sugar with soy sauce. I think this sauce is the world-easiest sweet sauce for rice cake that kids like, and very familiar taste for Japanese.

When you visit temples or shrines, one thing you can’t miss is reading your fortune. First, pay the price (100yen), then pull one stick out of numbered sticks in the box. Tell the staff what number is written in the stick you drew. The staff gives you a paper which matches the number on your stick, and reveal your fortune….

Of course I drew one to see how my year 2010 be…..and it was “The Best Luck”. Yes!!

Even when you drew a negative fortune and want to try it again, it is not really a good thing. Because the fortune you received should be regarded as a message from the God. If you try to draw fortune again immediatly wishing for the better fortune, it means you are ignoring God’s message. Instead of drawing a fortune again, people attach the negative fortune papers to the trees or ropes in the ground of shrine, which is to ask support from the God, or to keep away from the bad luck.

By the time I got ready to leave the shrine, I felt somehow refreshed. Donto-yaki is not a lively kind of festival, but an important custom to terminate New Year celebration and wish for the health throughout the year. If you have a chance to stay in Aomori or Japan in the middle of January, it can be nice to visit shrines or temples for Donto-yaki.

Utou Shrine

2-7-18 Yasukata, Aomori-city

Pay Parking Lot Available

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