Posted: January 18

New Year’s Bonfire – Dondo Yaki

Around the middle of January communities across Japan will be setting up dondo yaki, New Year’s bonfires, at local Shinto shrines. Local people will bring the new years decorations from their homes to be burned on the fire. The decorations are usually made from paper, straw, or pine branches, and are used to invite the gods into the house for the new years period. By burning the decorations the gods can return to heaven.

Before the New Year’s bonfire is lit, the shinto priest performs oharae; a purifying ritual to cleanse the decorations and onlookers before lighting the fire.

The size of the bonfire will vary depending on how many people live in the area. In some places the shrines have a large bamboo structure which acts as a base for the new year’s bonfire. At Amino Shrine the fire was smaller, but that gives it a more community oriented feel. It’s also easier to get close to put your own decorations in, and to take ashes out.

A lot of the people burning their decorations brought a metal bucket or tin along with them. After burning the decorations some ashes can be taken home from the bonfire. The ashes are then sprinkled around the house as a way of warding off evil spirits for the year to come.

Some New Year’s bonfires will have mochi, pounded rice cakes, available for grilling on the fire. Unfortunately due to covid-19 most bonfires were not offering it this year.

While the New Year’s bonfires is for local people to burn their New Year’s decorations, most bonfires will be happy to have extra visitors stopping by to take a look.