Fukuoka: Splashy Festival to Pray for Protection against Fires

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A participant douses himself with water from a mortar during a festival in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture.

OMUTA, Fukuoka — A traditional festival featuring participants dousing themselves with water from usu mortars was held in early January in Omuta, Fukuoka Prefecture.

The Usukaburi festival is a way for locals to pray for protection from fire. The city’s Miike district, which once served as a way station that was home to a large number of inns, had been plagued by fires. Part of the destruction included a significant blaze in 1868 that gutted 80 houses.

The festival is said to have started when local shrine parishioners visited area houses to pray for protection from fire. The locals used water in mortars or buckets that were placed at the gates of these homes to douse themselves.

The festival was paused for a period, but brought back in 1983 with a modification that had participants pour water on themselves at one specific venue.

The festival this year took place on Jan. 9. The heaviest mortar was 78 kilograms, and 22 participants — between 20 and 62 years old — put their heads into water-filled mortars, lifted them up and tossed the water backward. They also splashed the water on others around them.

Twenty elementary school students also took part in the festival, dumping buckets of water on their heads.

“It felt good. It seems this year is going to be a good year,” said an 11-year-old boy who participated.