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The street party started to gravitate in the direction of Bikuni Shrine and the two dashi got moving again. I then realized that I had a second opportunity to walk through fire, and quickly made my way to the shrine house. Unlike the previous night, Mr. Yoshimura and the other junior high teachers weren’t present, so I was potentially on my own. However, I discovered that Takahashi Nao was fire-walking, so I knew someone in the group after all. I changed into my white ninja garb and went out to find a spot on the mikoshi.

As luck would have it, there were less people participating in the fire-walking on the second night, definitely not enough people to have one man whose only responsibility was to ring the bells. This time I would be shouldering the burden as well and legitimately crossing the inferno.

Wasshoi, wasshoi!

The chanted started and everyone heaved the mikoshi up and down, building anticipation. This time it was for real. This wasn’t a watered down substitute, no kid gloves. It was on! My pulse raced and I felt exhilarated, but less from fear and more from the mob excitement around me. The pushing was much more evident from under the mikoshi. You really had no choice but to go along with the forceful flow, resistance was futile.

Wasshoi, wasshoi!

There was a fierce push and the group ran forward into the flames. This time, I could feel the intense heat of the fire. Passing over the flames, the wave of heat that washed over my body somehow felt purifying. Just on the verge of burning, if one moves quickly over the bonfire the feeling is akin to running one’s hand through a candle flame—Intensely warm, but not dangerous for the swift. Feet trampling over the fire sent burning embers into the air and the glowing flakes blew past my eyes like fiery snow.

Wasshoi, wasshoi!

As we turned around for our second pass, I was violently shouting the chant in rhythm with the other men. The mob mentality had taken hold and I was as engulfed in the ritual experience as I was in the flames. At that moment, I wasn’t really myself; I was part of the collective.

Wasshoi, wasshoi!

At some point, I began laughing hysterically. If anyone was watching me closely, it would have been clear that I had lost my mind, but everyone was focused on the task at hand. Cackling like the Joker, I moved along with the pushing, right into the fire again. The tall flames licked my ninja mask.

Wasshoi, wasshoi!

After five passes, we were resting the mikoshi on a stand nearby the main shrine building. It was all done. I felt extremely grateful to have had the second chance to run it, and the second time was much more satisfying.