30 foot High Bonfires

A couple of weeks ago, I was at the local elementary school, the scene of some of my recent posts.  As I prepped with the teacher, she asked me to finish my second class 5 minutes early.  Something about everyone going outside for dondoyaki.

Dondoyaki… hmm… what’s that?? I started processing it to try to figure out the meaning.

Takoyaki- Octopus batter balls

Yakiniku- Grilled meat

Yakitori- Grilled chicken

My best guess: grilled something.  Must be food. Grilled seafood of some sort?

After the first two classes, I came back to the office for my break.  One of the office staff encouraged me to grab my coat and head outside.  “It’s Japanese culture.”

Ok- new piece of the puzzle: it’s related to Japanese culture.  A New Years food perhaps?

In the middle of the schoolyard, there looked to be cherry-shaped bunch of pine-branches standing some 30 feet tall, with ropes holding the top of the “cherry stem” into the air.  Here and there were adornments and also at the bottom there seemed to be many pieces of paper with black calligraphy characters on them.

No sight nor smell of food anywhere.

After all the students gathered in a huge circle, a massive fire was lit and naturally everything was enveloped in flames.  Even from my distance, I could feel the wave of heat. Huge pops and cracks occasionally startled me, which I later found out was the bamboo cracking on the inside of the bonfire.  Clouds of ash rose to the sky and some students and moms collected some of the pieces of bigger ash that fell to the ground.

As I headed back to the office to wait for the students to pick me up for my next class, I knew it was time to do my research.  What was this that I’d just observed?

Dondoyaki is the Japanese tradition of burning all the New Year decorations and the lucky charms bought at the temple that hold the zodiac of the previous year.  Apparently it’s the only way to dispose of these things, as it’s extremely bad luck and bad taste to just throw them away.

Some even say that if you scatter the ash on your crop,that it will be more plentiful or lucky or such. And you’ll grow younger if you warm your hands by the fire.  Some people even roast mikans (mandarin oranges) and mochi by the fire.

So… see!  I was right– it did involve food in some aspect!


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