Nara: Where Demons Roam
Nara, one of Japan's ancient capitals, is home to spirits and demons. Due to its long history, the city has seen its fair share of wars and plagues. For local people the essence of difficulty and disaster is captured in demon form. But demons, with their huge flaming torches, can also help see in the blessings of spring. Demons and fire visit the people of Nara as they pray for a bountiful spring season.

Heroic Demons

In Japan, demons are closely connected with Setsubun, or spring equinox. At the Setsubun festival, people usually call out "away with demons, in with good luck!" as they throw beans. But in Yoshino Town, people say "in with good luck, in with demons too!" Mt. Yoshino has long been considered a demonic abode. The ritual is an eclectic mixture of Buddhism, exorcism rituals from China and Japanese traditions for welcoming the spring.

A Prayer for a Demon

Deep in the mountains of Southern Nara, the secluded village of Tenkawa is also celebrating Setsubun. The night before Setsubun, an unusual tradition is followed in the chief priest's house. The ancestor demons are said to return home. A family of Shinto priests, said to be descended from the demons, has lived here for over 1000 years. This religious ritual is called "Oni-no-yado" or the "Abode of Demons."

The Demons who Welcome Spring

The "Oni-hashiri," or Demon Run, ritual at Nenbutsu Temple features a father, mother and child demon. The demons brave flames to help the village welcome the coming spring. Nenbutsu Temple is in Saka-aibe District in Gojo City. Its woods provide a rich supply of firewood and charcoal, resources that have provoked many territorial disputes. The twelve villages in the district often joined together to protect their land. The annual "Oni-hashiri" event is one way for local people to confirm their mutual bond.