NACHIKATSUURA, Wakayama Prefecture--Devotees in traditional white robes hoisted blazing pine torches near a famed waterfall here July 14 in a sacred annual festival.
"Nachi no Ogi Matsuri" (Fan festival of Nachi) was held as part of the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine's 1,700th anniversary celebrations of its founding.
The shrine and surrounding area, including Nachi Falls, have been designated as a part of the UNESCO World Heritage site "Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range."
The ceremony marks the once-a-year return back to the Nachi Falls, where the many gods of the Kumano region were originally honored.
Twelve flaming torches were carried down the stone steps leading to the falls as those taking part shouted "hariyah, hariyah."
The ritual is held to purify the path so that the "mikoshi" (portable shrines) believed to carry the spirits of the Kumano region can be transported down the steps.