Omizutori is a sacred Japanese Buddhist festival held annually in Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan. According to locals, the festival is the final rite in the observance of the two week-long Shuni-e ceremony, where people are believed to cleanse their sins and welcome the spring of the new year. They also say that once Omizutori is completed, the cherry blossoms will start to bloom, an indication that spring has arrived. This festival includes a collection of Buddhist repentance rituals which have been held for over 1250 years, making it one of the longest and oldest events in Japan.
There are many different legends of the origin of this festival. One of the famous legends is about the founder of Shuni-e, Jitchu, who was believed to have invited gods to the ceremony. One of the gods, Onyu-myojin, arrived late to the ceremony because he was fishing on the Onyu River. To make up for it, he offered scented water from the river, and the river sprung up suddenly from the spot where he once stood.
Omizutori is usually held at the Nigatsu-do hall, where the Wakasa Well is located. It is where the sacred water is said to spring forth once a year. Among the many different events during Omizutori is Otaimatsu, held after sunset every night from March 1 to 14. Giant torches are brought up to the Nigatsu-do’s balcony for the crowd to see. Locals believe that visitors showered with burning embers are given protection for the entire year.
On the 12th and 14th of March are different though. On the 12th, there are more torches and these are larger than the previous ones. In the night of March 12 to 14, between 1:30 AM and 2:30 AM, the priests go down the Nigatsudo to draw water from the Wakasa Well. Following this event is the Dattan ceremony, held inside the Nigatsu-do hall. During the said ceremony, the horns are sounded, bells are rung and the priests swing their burning torches inside the building, a ritual that lasts until 3:30 in the morning.
Aside from visiting Nara for the Omizutori festival, there are other things you can try and visit. Go to Naramachi (Nara Town) to see traditional residential buildings and warehouses which have been preserved or maybe visit Nara’s most celebrated shrine, Kasuga Taisha, which is also known for its bronze lanterns and auxillary shrines in the woods around the area. Nara isn’t just a place of religion and history; it is also a place of classic beauty and nature.