The Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival: An Entire Mountain Set Aflame
Do you know what goes better with New Year’s celebrations other than fireworks? Setting an entire mountain in flames! The annual Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival in Nara Prefecture does just this…but why?
The unconventional event began in boundary conflicts among temples. Specifically, it stemmed from the dispute between the Kofukuji Temple located in Nobori Ojicho, Nara City, and the Todaiji Temple. In 1760, the mediator attempted to settle the long-standing dispute by burning Mt. Wakakusayama—the very center of the row.
This week, we’re sharing some of the most unique, lively, and colorful festivals across the globe. We’re kicking it off with Wakakusa Yamayaki in Nara, Japan, known as the “Mountain Burning Festival”, which takes place the fourth Saturday in January. A display of fireworks begins the evening, before the dry grass of the extinct volcano Mount Wakakusa is set ablaze, creating quite a spectacular view from the city of Nara. For Japanophile pyromaniacs, this is just one of many fire-related fests celebrated across the land of the rising sun.
Mt. Wakakusayama, also called Mt. Mikasa, is 342 meters above sea level and used to be a volcano
Based on another interpretation, the festival originated from the custom of setting the mountain ablaze to drive out wild animals (boars, bears) and eradicate harmful insects in the area.
Organized in the 18th century, the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival is one of Japan’s most magnificent winter festivals.
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The Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival has been held annually, every fourth Saturday of January. This year, it’s scheduled to happen on January 27, 2018.
The festival officially begins with the ritualistic lighting of the torch with the use of sacred fire at the Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara. Buddhist monks then carry the sacred torch down to a small shrine located at the foot of Mt. Wakakusayama.
There, a massive bonfire is lit.
As the bonfire continues to burn, hundreds of fireworks light up the sky for the entire city to see.
Members of Kofukuji, Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha use the flames from the bonfire to light their torches to set the grass on fire.
Depending on how dry the grass is, the burning ceremony can take anywhere from a half hour to an hour.
The burning spectacle can be seen in different places in the city but the best location would be in Nara Park. Just make sure you have your binocs ready and get there early so you can grab the best spot.
You can also see groups of deer freely roaming around the park and nearby areas.
Taiko drumming performances, a staple for every Japanese festival there is, also injects even more liveliness into the event.
Now, we realize that this does look and sound extremely dangerous but police and members of the fire brigade are available to make sure the fire doesn’t spread.
If you’d like to witness the festivities straight from the base of Mount Wakakusayama, you can take a 10-minute walk from Kasuga Taisha Shrine or Todaiji Temple.
From Kintetsu Nara Station, you can reach the mountain on foot in about 30-35 minutes.
If you’re making your way to the mountain from the JR Nara Station, walking to the mountain will take you around 50 minutes.
If you don’t prefer walking to the Kasuga Taisha Shrine, you can ride buses that run from both stations.
Zoshicho Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8211 Japan
January 27, 2018
Hours & Fees
6:00 PM | Free