Takisanji Oni Matsuri
Photography by Thaddeus Pope
The Takisanji Oni Matsuri (Takisanji Ogre Festival) at Takasanji Temple in Aichi Prefecture takes place on the evening of the last day of shushoe (修正会) – an annual ritual to pray for peace and good harvest for the coming year, which lasts for seven days from January 1st in the old Japanese calendar. This unusual festival, which features a spectacular fire-based purification ceremony, is said to have begun during the rule of Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147–1199), founder and first Shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan.
One central aspect of the festival involves bestowing blessings on males aged 12, 25 and 42 from the local community. Three of these males are chosen to participate in the purification ritual while wearing ceremonial ogre masks. A 42-year-old wears the mask of the Grandfather, a 25-year-old wears the mask of the Grandmother, and a 12-year-old wears the mask of the Grandchild. These unusual masks are believed to have been created by Unkei (1151–1223), the celebrated master woodcrafter from the Kamakura period.
Despite their frightening appearance, the three masked ogres are entrusted with the responsibility of driving evil out from the temple. On close inspection, you will see that they hold peculiar objects in their hands, including axes and bells – these are used as weapons to chase away evil spirits. They also hold large rice cakes, which symbolise the promise of peace and a good harvest for the year to come.