Omizutori is a more than 1,250-year-old tradition known to be one of the oldest Buddhist ceremonies still performed today. It is held annually from March 1 to 14 (the second month of the old lunar calendar) at Tōdaiji Temple in Nara.
It is held at the temple’s Nigatsudo Hall (“Hall of the Second Month” in English) as it was first built in 752 to host the ceremony.
What happens during Omizutori?
Omizutori is about purifying oneself of sins and welcoming the spring. The most popular part of the festival is Otaimatsu, when ten young monks take turns on the temple’s veranda brandishing 6-meter-tall torches that rain embers down on the crowd. This takes place every evening during the festival. It’s said to be good luck if an ember lands on you (but don’t try).
The biggest day of the event is March 12, when the torches and the crowds are extra large. On this evening, the crowd is moved along so everyone gets a chance to pass near the veranda.
On the 14th, an abbreviated, but dramatic version of the festivities takes place, with all 10 torches lit at once for one swift and bright 10 minutes.
Surprisingly, the wooden Nigatsudo hasn’t burned down since 1667, making it older than Tōdaiji’s more famous Daibutsuden.
March 1 to 13 (except March 12)
From 7 p.m. the torches will commence for 20 minutes. You will be able to view this from the lawn below Nigatsudo Hall, but if there are too many people, you will be moved to a second viewing area. If that also gets full, then you won’t be able to enter. You cannot reserve a spot in advance, so you’ll want to get there at least an hour or so earlier to get a spot.
This is the day specified for worshippers so the area to view the torches will be different. The torches will commence from 7:30 p.m. and will last for around 45 minutes. This is the busiest day of the festival, and so there is less of a chance to see the events.
The torches will commence from 6:30 p.m. and last 10 minutes. The viewing situation is the same for March 1 to 13.
What about the water?
What about the water — Omizutori means “Drawing of the Water” — you ask? During a secret ceremony very early in the morning on the 13th, temple priests draw water from a well that supposedly only flows on this one occasion during the year. This water is believed to have curative powers, and is offered first to Kannon and other deities and then the public.
How to get to Omizutori
Nara is a popular, easy day trip from Kyoto or Osaka, and it makes sense to go for the whole day. Then you can follow our recommended itinerary for a perfect day in the ancient capital. Odds are you can just follow the crowds over to the Nigatsudo. But on the off chance it’s not obvious where to go, bear in mind that the Nigatsudo is a good 10 minutes away from the Daibutsuden (Tōdaiji covers a lot of ground).Organizers may cancel events, alter schedules, or change admission requirements without notice. Always check official sites before heading to an event.