Just down the hill from our apartment is a small shrine. Surrounded by tall zelkova, it looks like every other rural area shrine - brown, tidy, and quiet. It's where our annual Obon festival is held and a handful of other festivals throughout the year, too, but usually it's just there. We had seen a plaque that described a fire festival, but we didn't have a chance to see it for ourselves until last September.
Local men and women carry the mikoshi (a portable shrine that houses the local god) along a set path, passing it over burning bundles of wara (rice straw) along the way before bringing it back to the shrine where a huge bonfire is lit. They run back and forth from the fire to the temple with the mikoshi to celebrate our local god and ask for its protection once more throughout the year. It is an event unlike anything else I have ever seen here.
The whole neighborhood and then some turn out to witness this event, which feels raucous as well as reverent. The fire department, of course, is on hand in case things go awry.