Taimatsu torch (たいまつ)

Taimatsu is the Japanese word for torch, a lighted piece of wood which can be held and used as a light source and for illumination. Generally, it is a long stick or pole with a piece of cloth soaked in flammable substance (such as pine resin) wrapped around its tip.

In the pre-electricity era, torches were used to illuminate basements or corridors and rooms in stone buildings such as western-style castles or churches, by inserting them into a holder (sconce) which is fixed with a projecting bracket on the upper part of the wall.

If a mixture of sulfur and lime is used, the torch will remain lit under water. Such torches were used in ancient Rome.

Many religious services and fire festivals around the world use torches to light up the night sky or to carry a sacred flame. In summer in Japan, there used to be an event called 'Mushioi' or 'Mushiokuri' in which people used torches to burn harmful insects flying over the fields. This later evolved from agricultural practice into fire festivals, some of which are held to ask for a good harvest, for protection against fires, or for protection against insects.

Torches in Shinto rituals

Torches are also used as illumination at night or to carry a sacred flame in Shinto rituals such as festivals. Torches are used in various 'fire festivals' to illuminate the approach to the shrine; are carried by worshippers as they walk in procession to the shrine; a large 'Otaimatsu torch' made of easily-burned firewood is used for night illumination in Shinto rituals; or they carried to the "Gekai" (lower world) by people running through the shrine. Other rituals that use fire include the "okuribi" bonfire held on the last night of the Bon festival and the "toronagashi" ceremony where paper lanterns are floated down a river. Torches used for rituals held at night or for those dedicated to gods and the dead can be seen not only in Japan but also all over the world including Asia, ancient Europe, Greece, and Rome.

One of the world's most famous sacred-flame torches is that used for the Olympic torch relay in which the sacred flame is lit in Greece and carried in relay across many countries to the host country, remaining alight until the closing ceremony. The torch and the relay were introduced at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

Torches for juggling

Juggling torch is used as a toss juggling tool. While juggling, the torch is repeatedly tossed up and caught. It is performed in the same way as knife or club juggling, but the sound and residual image of the fire creates a strong impression on the audience. Since using fire is dangerous, it is difficult for unskilled jugglers to do this kind of juggling. Even skilled jugglers need to be very careful, though it is unlikely that such a skilled juggler burns himself.

Torches as symbols

The torch is a common symbol of 'lighting up the darkness' or 'enlightening the world.'
For example, the official name of the Statue of Liberty, which holds a torch in its right hand, is 'Liberty Enlightening the World.'
Downward-pointing crossed torches were a common sign of mourning in ancient Greece and Rome. Downward-pointing torches symbolized death, while upward-pointing torches represented the regenerative power of flame and symbolized life.

The torch as a light in the darkness is also used as a symbol of political organizations and parties. The logo of Britain's Conservative Party features a hand holding a torch. Likewise, until 1983, the mark of Britain's Labour Party featured a torch crossed with a spade, representing a farmer. The national flag of the Republic of Congo (former Zaire) also has a hand holding a torch in the center, representing revolution and freedom.

Torches in Catholicism

Throughout its long history, the Catholic Church has had a tradition of not easily giving up something once it has been used for a mass or ceremony. Although torches were originally only used for providing illumination during mass, their role grew in importance and they eventually became an essential part of Solemn Mass.

According to a book written by Adrian Fortescue in 1912 (The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy), the appropriate type of torch for Mass was one that had to be held, not a self-standing type. Today, however, even in Solemn Mass held at the Vatican, they use a tall candle in a self-standing candleholder rather than a torch. These are carried by torchbearers, brought to the altar when Sanctus is sung, and taken away after Holy Communion.

Anglican High Churches and some Lutheran Churches use torches in their services.


The word 'torch' when used on construction sites refers to the small handheld oxyacetylene or propane burner, used to cut or weld metals such as iron.

[Original Japanese]