Sagicho Festival (左義長)

Sagicho is a fire festival held on the small New Year's Day (January 15). Each region has their own names for this festival (see below). This ritual is seen widely throughout Japan. In Tokyo, however, Sagicho Festival was banned around 1660-1670 in the Edo period due to fire prevention and it collapsed afterward.


At the night of January 14, or in the morning of January 15, three or four bamboo trunks are tied up and built in the rice paddy after the harvest and so on. Then, local people bring Kadomatsu (New Year's pine decoration), Shimekazari (Sacred Shinto rope with festoons) or Kakizome paper (the first calligraphy of the year) and put them into the bonfire. It is said that eating the mochi grilled on that fire protects people from diseases during the year. Also, if the flames rise high when Kakizome paper is thrown into the fire, they say his or her calligraphy skill will be improved.

Many region celebrate Sagicho as their Doso-jin (traveler's guardian deity) festivals.

From an ethnographic standpoint, burning Kadomatsu or Shimekazari, which were displayed to welcome the year god, signifies seeing off the toshigami (God of the Year) with this fire. In the Bon Festival (Buddhist Festival of ancestral spirits) there is also a custom of the fire burning, but it is considered as the mixture of a folk custom and Buddhist ritual that welcomes and sees off ancestral spirits.

Some regions that enshrine mainly Tokutokujin (a god controls luck and merit in that year) call this festival as Dondo, Dondo-yaki, Tondo-yaki or Donto-yaki. These folkways seem to originate in Izumo region. In some documents, the kanji characters 爆竹 (bakuchiku, firecracker) are applied for Tondo. This may be from the phonetic equivalent, the sound of green bamboo trunks burst in the fire.

Being regarded as a children's festival, children help setting up bamboo trunks or collecting old Shimekazari and so on. Each district holds it as the event of the children's association (corresponds to a neighborhood association) at elementary school and so on.

Depending on the regions, different items are burned.

Daruma dolls should be burned in the bonfire ?
There is an idea that sending back the lucky charms to the heaven by burning them in the festival. As another idea, Daruma dolls are never burned because, they say, it causes blindness. Or Daruma dolls don't appear in the festival.

Daidai (bitter orange) is believed to bring descendants prosperity, so if people trample daidai to burn them quickly, it is considered as bad luck.

Kawasaki City Museum exhibits the distribution maps of the regions and models of Sagicho.

Also, there are some regions which don't carry out Sagicho but hold the events that burn Ofuda (paper charm) on the certain day (such as December 29).

These days some regions discontinue Sagicho Festival due to the dioxin contamination issue.

Sagicho Festival in Oiso-cho in Kanagawa Prefecture is designated as Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Property.


Sagicho Festival is described in "The Diary of Ben no Naishi "(Ben no Naishi is a woman poet in Kamakura period) of January 16 in 1251 and in the "Tsurezuregusa"(Essays in Idleness). Therefore, the festival had already been held in the Kamakura period. There are several different theories, and the most compelling theory of the origin of Sagicho traces back to a court function in the Heian period. In the Heian period, on Lunar New Year's Day (15th of New Year), there was a ceremony to tell bad or good luck of the year in Seiryoden (a building for ceremonies) in the East Garden of the Imperial Court. In the ceremony, fans and tanzaku (long, narrow card on which Japanese poems are written vertically) were placed on the three Giccho (a Japanese ancient game similar to Hockey) sticks tied to the vertical green bamboo poles, and a Yin Yang master burned them while he was singing and playing musical accompaniment. That is, bamboo trunks given by Yamasina Family or other families were tied up together and built in the East Garden of Seiryoden. Fans, paper strips, kissho (ritual writings) written by the Emperor were tied to those bamboo trunks and a Yin Yang master burned them while his singing and playing musical accompaniment, then the Emperor inspected it.
According to the "Kojitsu shuyo"(the book of old customs and manners), at first, a Yin Yang master Daikoku in Eboshi (aJapanese head gear) and Suou (formal uniform) stands in the center of the garden and plays musical accompaniment,
Then, two Daikoku in Kamishimo (formal complete outfits) stand face to face and play musical accompaniment with bamboo branches with white pieces of paper hanging in their hands. After that, a young boy wears a mask of a demon and dances holding a short stick decorated in gold and silver. And two boys in masks and red hoods dance with drums. Then, a man in gold Eboshi and Okuchi (a type of trousers) dances while beating a small Kakko (a Japanese drum) around his neck, and a man in short Kamishimo plays the flute and beats the Kotsuzumi (small hand drum). Sagicho was from tying three giccho sticks together.

The festival beame popular among the general public and reached its present form. It is not known why kanji '左義長' which is currently in general, came to be applied.


Corresponding with the transfer of the national holiday, Coming of Age Day moved from on January 15 to on the second Monday of January, some regions celebrate Sagicho on the second Sunday or the second Monday. Sagicho Festival in Omihachiman City in Shiga Prefecture is held on Saturday and Sunday close to March 14, 15. Sagicho carriers dressed in costume by the tradition of Nobunaga (Nobunaga ODA), shouts "Choyare Masse Masse." This Sagicho is not stationary but is carried around. The grain decorations called "Dashi," which are associated with the year of oriental zodiac are attached to a torch of triangular pyramid, and 5 to 6m long bamboo trunks with red paper strips called "Juningatsu" are stick to the top of the torch. All items except carrying poles are burned in the last evening of the festival. The festival is designated as National Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Properties.

Sagicho Festival in Katsuyama City of Fukui Prefecture has been held in February since 300 years ago. Also men wearing female clothing beat the drum and dances.

Sagicho in Kaizu City of Gifu Prefecture is also designated as Gifu Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Property and they have a magnificent festival on February 11. In the evening, people visit Akiba-jinja Shrine and eat mochi grilled on the embers, and it is said that they are protected from diseases.

Different names

By the syllabary order
Awantori (Chiba Prefecture)
It is the festival held at Oritate-jinja Shrine in Oritate, Unazuki-cho, Kurobe City, Toyama Prefecture. The flames of the fire were compared to cranes (tsuru) flying away.
These cranes (tsuru) turned into 'Ozuru, Kozuru' (a big crane and a small crane), then corrupted to become 'Onzuro-konzuro.'

Onbe-yaki (or simply Onbe)
Kanjo (Iwafune, Murakami City, Niigata Prefecture)
Guro (Isotake-cho, Oda City, Shimane Prefecture)
Refer to Guro of Isotake.

Saito no Kami, Sai no Kamiyaki, Sai no Kami (Niigata Prefecture, Aizu region in Fukushima Prefecture and others.
In Aizu region, it was known as "Sai no Kami"

Sai no Kami Festival (Uwano-mura-machi, Nyuzen-machi, Shimoniikawa-gun, Toyama Prefecture)
Sagiccho (Ishikawa Prefecture, Fukui Prefecture, Kochi Prefecture and Fukuoka Prefecture)
Shinmei-san (Akitsu-cho, Higashi-Hiroshima City, Hiroshima Prefecture)
Sumitsuke Tondo (The rite of Sumitsuke)
The festival that is held in Katae District, Mihonoseki-cho, Matsue City, Shimane Prefecture. It is celebrated on January 7. A portable shrine being carried through the street, sumi (black ink) is put on visitors' and participants' faces. This is a rare example.

Suminuri (Black ink painting)
This festival is held in Matsunoyama-machi, Tokamachi City, Niigata Prefecture. Suminuri is named after the event, which is held after the fire burning. This is a rare example.
The object that is to be burned is called 'Sai no kami.'

Tondo (Hiroshima Prefecture)
Tondo -yaki
Donto Festival
The above are disgnations of the festivals celebrated around Sendai City of Miyagi Prefecture. In the evening of January 14, New Year's decorations are burned and it is believed that the fire protects people from diseases for the year. In the festival, people don't grill mochi and Daruma dolls don't appear. Also, it is not considered as a festival for children. And it doesn't have calligraphy burning. The number of festivals is decreasing year by year due to difficulty in finding the locations and so on, but still the festivals have been held in each shrine in each region. Among them, Sagicho in Osaki Hachimangu Shrine is magnificent with over 200,000 visitors and it is designated as Sendai City Important Intangible Folk-Cultural Property. It is called "Naked Festival," including the event of men in fundoshi (loincloth) walking through the street. In this "naked festival," women participants have been increasing (women wrap themselves with cloth called sarashi).

Donodoya (Kyushu)
Fukuma Sankuro
This name is used around Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, which is associated with the name of a Shrine priest who was in charge of the local guardian deity's festival. Daruma dolls are displayed on the top to stand out most. Conventionally it was celebrated on January 15, but is now mostly held around January 7 during the school winter break. People eat dango sweets called 'Mayudama' (cocoon-shaped) made of rice powders to pray for good health.

Hokkengyo (Fukuoka City in Kyushu)
Yahahairo (Tohoku)

[Original Japanese]