Photo/IllutrationA priest undergoes the austere discipline test, crossing fire, in Nagatoro, Saitama Prefecture, on March 4. (Kenji Takayama)

NAGATORO, Saitama Prefecture--In a scorching leap of faith, priests hotfooted it across burning embers in a traditional fire ritual to herald the coming of spring in the Chichibu-ji region on March 4 in front of Fudoji temple here.

The annual Nagatoro Himatsuri fire festival, held near the temple at the foot of Mount Hodosan, is said to bring good fortune and ward off evil spirits through containing earthly desires by fire.

About 50 people including priests of Daigoji temple, located in Kyoto, headquarters of the Fudoji temple, offered prayers for the safety of families and prosperous businesses.

Amid the blowing of a conch shell, 3 tons of firewood and 4 tons of cypress branches stacked in a pile 8 meters in length and 4 meters wide were set on fire.

After the flames subsided, priests crossed the embers while hefting an approximately 1-meter-long charm for esoteric Buddhism, followed by visitors walking barefoot through the hot wood remnants.