Photo/Illutration“Noboriko” ritual participants rush down a stone stairway holding burning torches in Shingu, Wakayama Prefecture, on Feb. 6. (Jun Ueda)

SHINGU, Wakayama Prefecture--The crowd of 1,800 men who gathered for the Oto Matsuri festival here got all fired up before lighting up the night with burning torches Feb. 6.

The ritual participants, known as “noboriko,” clad in white robes and with thick straw ropes tied around their waists, climbed the 538 steps of Kamikurajinja shrine’s stone stairway, said to have been donated by shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo (1147-1199) in the Kamakura Period.

Crowding around the huge Gotobiki-iwa rock, an object of worship at the mountainside shrine, the group ignited their torches.

Then, as soon as the shrine gate opened shortly before 8 p.m., they rushed down the stairs, leaving dragon-like trails of fire in their wake.

The annual spectacle is documented in the local traditional song “Shingu Bushi” with the lyric, “On the mountain are falls of fire. They are descending dragons.”

The fire festival was designated as an important intangible folk cultural property by the government in 2016 in recognition of its part in preserving nature worship and primitive religion.