Dear Family and Friends,
On that sacred day people gather their decorations and flock to the nearest Shinto shrine. There they toss their offerings into bonfires that roar and hiss as the flames are fed into full abundance.
What makes this festival unique is not so much the bonfires, however, as the people. Participants join colleagues, dressed in thin cotton outfits and straw sandals. They walk together through the city ringing bells and shivering their way to the nearest shrine. They carry lanterns and hold paper in their mouths to control their chattering teeth and to give them a focus beyond the piercing cold. Once at the shrine area, they circle the bonfires, rejoicing in the warmth, as other worshipers throw their decorations into the flames.
Regular worshippers, fully dressed for winter’s bitterness, also head to the altar to pray. They, too, ring bells, bow, ask for blessings.
Japanese say they are not religious, and maybe they are not. But they all recognize the power of superstitions and live by them. People of all ages go to shrines on Dontosai. They pray, they eat, they buy expensive decorations and Daruma dolls, immediately throwing them into the fire.
God bless the world as we, Japanese or not, strive for purity and humility, as we seek forgiveness and start this year with endless courage to endure.