Today, I went to my first exorcism. The Buddhist ceremony at Fukagawa Fudo Temple was one of the most fascinating hours of my trip so far.
Viewers sat in rows behind the priest and when the chanting started, you could have heard a pin drop. It was dark except for a few lights along the side and in the front; yet, it was enough to make out the ornate decorations of the gold designs on the black lacquer in this seemingly modern Tokyo temple.
On each side of the chanting priest were two huge taiko drums which were pounded or quieted in accompaniment of the chanting priest. Large ornate scrolls were read, the drums were pounded, prayers were read, and then it started all again. We were captivated.
The large drums, more than 3 feet across, reverberated with such force that the rhythm could be felt deep within our bodies. If you have ever heard Japanese taiko drums, you will know what I mean. (There was a reason these drums were historically used for military communications.) The rhythm and raw power of the drums was beautiful and invigorating.
In the middle of the stage area, a fire was raging. This fire was started from wooden cedar planks on which people wrote the bad things that have happened to them. They are then slowly burned by the priest and his assistants to remove the presence of these evils.
This particular temple’s ceremony, from the Shingon sect of Buddhist, was dedicated to the fire god, Narita Fudo. For this reason, tthe large fire was kept burning bright during the whole ceremony. At certain points, it was stoked so high that sparks flew. I kept wondering if they ever have trouble with the fire spreading beyond its contained spot on the beautiful stage.
When the priest spoke again, most of the audience rose and lined up on either side of the stage. They offered purses, bags, articles of clothing or any possessions to be warmed over the glowing fire. The warming of the article represented a purifying of one’s soul or homes and a warding off of evil. One by one, the priest stood chanting while assistant monks took items from the audience to rid of evil over the fire. It continued to burn bright in the dark room as the line slowly decreased.
The purification of the viewers’ belongings was followed by more chanting, and then more cedar planks were burned in the fire. At this point, the real drumming began. The whole temple felt like it was swaying.
I didn’t take photos as I was afraid the flash would be disturbing but Lorenzo and I both did take video. I am so glad I did as it really was entrancing. Several times during the ceremony, our friends asked us if we wanted to sneak out early but we were all drawn to the amazing musical chanting, the sparkling fire, and the astounding drumming.
While I didn’t ever feel the urge to jump up and hand over my purse for purification, I truly enjoyed this full sensory experience on one of our final days here in Japan.