In the Itoigawa region this festival is known as “Sai no Kami,” but it is better known throughout Japan as “Dondoyaki.” The festival has many different names in different regions of Japan and the way the festival is celebrated and its purpose differ as well.
The Sai no Kami pyre is usually made using bamboo and tree supports piled with straw. The shape and size of the pyre differs from region to region. Some regions also sing or chant special songs, like the Oumi region’s “Sagicho Song” and other regions include Daruma dolls or wooden figures in the pyre.
Cone-shaped Sai no Kami Pyre
Candle-shaped Sai no Kami Pyre
Most Sai no Kami celebrations are New Year’s fire festivals traditionally held to pray to the Dōsojin, guardian deities which are said to guard the border between the living and the dead, ward off misfortune and evil, and promote fertility and prosperity.
In some regions where the festival is called “Sagicho” or “Dondoyaki,” the festival is said to be celebrated for the Toshitokujin†, a god of the New Year who returns to heaven riding the flames and smoke of the bonfire.
†The Toshitokujin is also known regionally as Tondosan, Toshigami, or Shōgatsusan
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