Yesterday, Sunday afternoon, Choco and I were taking a walk while Tetsu slept on the sofa. Since there was no schedule for the rest of the day I let Choco lead and we ended up in the fields at a Donto-yaki gathering. In my part of Japan, every January the farmers hold Donto-yaki days and I think in other parts of Japan there is usually a Donto-yaki going on at the Shrines around this time of year.
I'm not really sure what all Donto-yaki entails but in my area the Donto-yaki for the area is announced and everyone takes their New Year's decorations to the open field where towers of bamboo have been constructed. I think the times for Donto-yaki are staggered so that the fire department can be on hand for all of them, but anyway, at some point the bamboo is set aflame and all the neighbors throw their New Year's Decorations into the fire sending wishes for a good year up to the heavens with the smoke.
The women also seem to spend a lot of time earlier in the day making little pounded rice balls of omochi that are stabbed onto tree branches and these are set around the bonfire to toast. I think I remember that if you eat a certain amount of rice balls it is supposed to protect you from cold germs...
The fire department and volunteer firemen were out at the festival dressed in their traditional silver fire protective garb. The onlookers were toasting their rice balls and drinking warm osake or sweet sake which is low in alcohol content and even the children can enjoy.
Choco didn't like that popping and crackling from the huge fire and she pulled us by very quickly but she found that rolling in the smokey ashes was quite satisfying and came home more black than white. Got a scolding from Tetsu when she tracked sooty footprints into the house!