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Hidden Wonders

[Hidden Wonders of Japan] Traditional Ritual in Wakayama Takes Place At Edge of 133-Meter Waterfall

What sounds like the intro to an action film is, in reality, the description of a traditional ritual in Wakayama which took place on July 9, at the top of the Nachi Falls.

JAPAN Forward

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You say you are a daredevil. But do you have the stomach to be at the edge of a 133-meter waterfall? The one we’re referring to is of course in picturesque Wakayama Prefecture.

What sounds like the intro to an action film, is in reality the description of a traditional ritual in Wakayama, which took place this year on July 9, at the top of Nachi Falls. Note: this waterfall is celebrated as Japan’s highest, with a single uninterrupted drop.  

The Shinto temple Kumano Nachi Taisha is part of the Kumano region UNESCO World Heritage Site. And at this time of the year it enjoys a particular period of celebration. 

On July 14 in a regular year, the “Nachi Ogi Matsuri,” a festival with a long tradition of worshiping the deities takes place.

The highlight of the event is a fire ritual on the stone steps leading to Hiro Jinja, a Shinto shrine at the site. Guiding the procession, men swing 12 huge flaming torches weighing more than 50 kg each in a ritual for purifying the 12 portable shrines (mikoshi) and surrounding area, making them ready to welcome the twelve kami (gods) of the Kumano mountains for an annual visit. It’s a very suggestive ritual, and one which people from all over the world come to witness and marvel at in normal times. 

There is also a special ritual at the top of the Nachi Falls that takes place in preparation for this celebration. Wearing the traditional white robes associated with the Shinto religion, the priests substituted the sacred white rope (known as shimenawa) just above the waterfall with a new one. The priests work minutely, and walk carefully wearing straw zouri slippers, taking care not to slip.

Like many traditional celebrations during the continuing pandemic, the Nachi Ogi Festival is taking place in a reduced format this year by barring regular spectators and worshippers in the ritual. 

Even though we can’t enjoy the Matsuri this year, let us hope that we can look forward to next year’s celebration with even more trepidation than we did before.

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(Click here to read the article in Japanese)

Author: JAPAN Forward