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Fire ritual held at Aso Shrine hit by 2016 Kumamoto quake

ASO, Kumamoto -- A traditional fire ritual praying for a huge harvest was held on March 24 at Aso Shrine here, which was heavily damaged by the April 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake.

During the disaster, a symbolic two-storied gate, which is designated as a national important cultural property, and a worship hall completely collapsed at the shrine and are now undergoing restoration

Parishioners swing around burning dried grass tied to ropes in a ritual at Aso Shrine in the city of Aso, Kumamoto Prefecture, on March 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Michiko Morizono)

The ritual is part of the Aso Agricultural Festival, which is designated as a national intangible folk-culture asset, and marks the coming of spring. Following the quake, the ritual had been scaled down as many areas near the approach to the shrine were occupied due to the restoration work. This year, fire rings lit up the whole approach, about 200 meters in size, for the first time since the disaster.

The ritual stems from folklore where parishioners swung around torches when the enshrined deity invited a goddess to the shrine as a welcome sign. Shortly before 7 p.m. on March 24, when a portable shrine for the goddess arrived, parishioners ignited bunches of dried grass tied to ropes about 2 meters in length and vigorously swung them around.

(Japanese original by Keiichi Sugiyama, Kumamoto Bureau)

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