Asia Travel News

Light a flame for the fire god

Not many people call the small town of Takarazuka home, but plenty make the pilgrimage there. That's because it houses a prominent shrine to Kojin, god of the hearth. People make the journey there to say prayers, burn old shrines and prepare for the new year. Travelers who want to experience this annual Japanese ritual should start making plans now, as the first months of the season are peak times for visitors. Festivities and involved rituals soon follow. 

Fiery history
The shrine is housed in the Kiyoshikôjin Seichô-ji Temple, all of which is dedicated to the god of fire. Built in the 9th century, the temple claims that its first project was to build its Kojin shrine to house fifteen Shinto deities to serve as guardians. The temple's structures were then destroyed multiple times by fire, once in 1183 after a war between clans and again in 1579 during the Battle of Itami. Yet, the Kojin shrine survived both trials. Approximately 3.5 million people now visit the complex annually, with more than 700,000 coming between New Year's to early February, Koken Sakamoto, chief priest of the temple, told The Associated Press.

Cleansing
For many people around the world, New Year's is a time for fresh starts. In Japan, this means a visit to Shinto shrines, where visitors bring good luck charms and household shrines to help make their first prayers and wishes for the upcoming year, according to The AP. At Kiyoshikôjin Seichô-ji, however, the rituals are tailored to match the purposes of its most prominent residential shrine. Come February, old household shrines and charms are hoisted in a bonfire before new ones are purchased. Naturally, the pilgrims bring in their wake food and trinket vendors. A visit to Kiyoshikôjin Seichô-ji becomes a day of celebration.

Paths and shrines
While the temple is geared toward the fire god, the temple is an involved complex that houses other gods and deities as well, among them the water deity and the god of commerce. The buildings also carry triumphal names, such as the Hall of Heaven, where an exclusive and esoteric ritual for Kojin takes place. The hall of the Dragon King is home to the water deity, which protects all living things. The statue of Ksitigarbha grants one wish to whoever pours water over the bronze statue. 

Yet, not all of the buildings are dedicated to prayer. The temple also features a museum of its history and art, featuring items that give insight into the temple's past events and beliefs.

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