Fire prevention ritual held in northern Japan

Men wearing outlandish straw costumes marched through a small community in northern Japan on Saturday. They were taking part in a centuries-old ritual.

The “Yonekawa no Mizukaburi” event dates back more than 800 years. It is held annually in the Yonekawa district of Tome City, Miyagi Prefecture.

Thirty-four boys and men, clad in costumes made from rice straws, painted their faces with soot before they took to the streets.

As they walked in procession, they threw buckets of water on houses.

Spectators approached the men and pulled straws out of the costumes. Rice straws are believed to be charms that prevent fires from breaking out.

Last December, UNESCO added the Yonekawa no Mizukaburi ritual, and nine other Japanese traditional events involving costume-wearing deities, to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

One local man in Yonekawa said he hopes the event will be passed down for many generations to come, since it is now known to the world.