‘Tondo' is a fire ceremony carried out to see in the New Year and to expel the calamities of the old. (In an old belief, both New Year’s Day and the Bon festival were soul or spirit festivals.) The purpose of the fire festival is to drive away violent spirits. The New Year’s fire festival takes place on the night of Jan. 14 or in the morning of Jan. 15.


‘Tondo’ can be traced back to ‘Sagicho’, an old sport on horseback using three sticks like the present field hockey. The sticks closely resemble the clubs of stock golf. The fire festival originates from the time when people burned these three sticks on Jan. 15.

In folk beliefs, as bamboo is used as the main material, the name 'Tondo' is an onomatopoeic word recalling the sound of exploding bamboo. The evil spirits run away from the loud sound.


People make a big bundle of Kadomatsu, Shimekazari, amulets and other things belonging to the past year's events. A big platter made of pine tree twigs, called 'Sangai', is put on the pinnacle of the bundle with some bamboo and the whole structure is decorated with five-colour strips of fancy paper. People prepare Kasanemochi and Daidai (bitter oranges) for ornamental purposes, too. Then people go to a field or a river bank and begin the Tondo fire festival. On their return, they bring back the baked Mochi for eating.


Now, there are few places where the festival exists in its ancient form, but there are still some beliefs surrounding the Tondo festival.

1. People do not catch a cold after warming themselves at the Tondo fire.

2. If people burn Kakizome (the New Year's writings), as the falme of Tondo rises into the 

sky, their writing style will improve.

3. If people eat Tondomochi (rice cakes baked in the Tondo fire), they won't catch an incurable disease.

4. If people sprinkle Tondo ashes around the house, snakes will keep away. If ashes are throen up to the rooves, fire can be averted. If people put the ashes on their forehead, they can achieve a perfect state of health.

5. Don't blow on Tondomoch to cool it.

6. Warm yourself at the fire with back toward it.

7. Set the bamboos for Tondo in quiet streets, otherwise people will walk on them and will be bitten by snakes.

8. If Urajiro (a kind of fern) in the Tondo fire remains unburnt, many centipedes will swarm near the house.

9. On the night of Tondo, if people can't see their shadow, they will die within a year.

10. If the Tondo event isn't carried out, vermin will increase.

11. Don't use Usu (a hand mill and a mortar) and don't cut bamboo on Tondo day.


Parkway Vol. 1 No.1 January 1987