The blog of Tokyo based photographer and photojournalist, Damon Coulter

Hot Footing It in Takaosan-guchi

It`s the third time I`ve been to this well-known fire walking festival in the hills of Takaosan-guchi, and each time I think it will be the last but the event is just too spectacular to pass up and I found myself, this Sunday, on the train again heading up to the festival once more.

This year though, unlike before, we photographers were rather restricted in where we could go. Before we had been able to move around pretty freely  inside the ground where a huge bonfire of cedar branches is lit and which, after it has burnt down a bit, the Yamabushi or mountain priests walk over.  of course they got a bit jumpy and tried to keep you away if you got too close the flames. This year I didn`t even take a telephoto lens thinking I`d be braver and take more risks shooting the fire and the priests closer and more dramatically with a wide angle. But as we weren`t actually allowed beyond the perimeter this time, or anywhere near the action at all in reality it was an effort to get some of the shots I wanted and maybe this will be the last time I go.

Still a good day though with an authentic cultural feel, something exotic and lots of old and new friends among the photographers and journalists there.

More images of the Hiwatari, Fire Walking festival on Mount Takao in Japan at my archive here



Click here from a fun little multimedia piece on the festival by the Guardian`s Justin McCurry. Certainly helps get across the mesmerizing noise of the festival. You can almost smell the smoke too. Almost…


5 responses

  1. you always seem to know about these cool things to go to that I have no idea about.
    Shame about the restricted access but some nice shots all the same.

    March 9, 2009 at 1:04 am

  2. Thanks mate, think it will the last time I go as being able to move about reasonable freely (obviously they got a bit scared and protective if you got too near the fire) as we were before made for much better pictures. Now sharing the press pit with a couple of TV crews and their huge tripods made shooting a bit of an effort really as there was little space left among those legs, particularly since a mikoshi was parked right in front of us blocking half the available view and I really missed a long lens.
    It is just so spectacular though.
    Will catch up soon.

    March 9, 2009 at 11:35 am

  3. Thanks for your comment Damon. It’s a tough event to shoot, especially as you mention due to the fact that you are rather restricted on where you can and cannot go. Looks like you did well though! Nice variety. Just for your ref I put some other images up on my Photoshelter site here

    March 9, 2009 at 12:00 pm

  4. I tried to post this under the relevant post but with no success. I’m trying again here.

    Don’t worry, Damon. Be secure in the knowledge that should a British politician finish up a speech in the house with God Bless The United Kingdom, or some such rubbish, s/he would be laughed out the door and the media and population would be up in arms.

    Unlike in the United States of America. For that fact alone, I’m delighted to be back.

    However, given the difficulty of securing a school for my sons from New York, we’ve had to settle for a C of E school. It pains me sometimes but he knows where his mother and I come from on the issue. We’re both atheists but I tend to be the more militant, for I feel we atheists need to make a stand against stupidity and dogma.

    Eoin, my eldest, once said that Claire (my wife) and I were lucky because he and his little brother, Connor were gifts from god. He was surprised at my reaction when I told him that was entirely bullshit and that there were only two people in his parents’ marriage, his mother and me. PERIOD!

    Now he is as much an atheist as I am. We managed to reconcile our views and that of the school by suggesting that god (with a SMALL “g”) is simply an idea. And a stupid one in the 21st century at that.

    I will say in addition, however, that his basic grounding in religious education will enable him to better appreciate historical art and literature. And it’ll inform him in any future debates he may find himself involved in on the matter.

    All this makes for interesting conversations on the walks to and from school. He’s gathering quite an insight into human behavior and understanding from all of this. Very interesting indeed.

    Hope you’re well.


    March 13, 2009 at 4:54 pm

  5. Hey, nice pics! It was my first time going, and I thought it was cool that they let people get so close. All relative, I guess. Wished I’d had a better camera and a closer spot. Great experience, though.

    March 18, 2009 at 11:51 pm

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