An odd photo for this week's Photo Friday theme: Blaze. But anyone who's lived in Japan will know why it answers the theme.
The long sticks are ofuda, talismans bought from Shinto shrine which contain good luck messages or fortunes. The two heads are daruma dolls; when one embarks on a major project, one blackens an eye of the doll, and one blackens the other when the project is complete.
The first week of the new year is the most popular time to buy these—their power lasts a full twelve months. But as the following year turns, the talismans must be replaced, and the old ones burned. The smoke from all these burning wishes gets up the nose of the gods, and they will sneeze some luck your way.
Shrines conduct regular bonfires throughout the first weeks of the new year; these spent charms met their fate at our neighbourhood Shrine, the Atagojinja, in early 2001. Appropriate to the theme, since the shrine is on a hill that used to serve as a fire lookout, and the main totem worshipped here is Homusubi no Mikoto, a god of fire.