Wakakusa Yamayaki: the festival with the flaming hill

19 Jan 2018 in Discover Japan

Giant rice crackers are thrown. And a hill is set on fire! Discover Nara’s eccentric festival.


In Nara, Japan’s ancient capital, they know how to celebrate the New Year. At the Wakakusa Yamayaki festival, there are, of course, fireworks.

Light show in Japan

But there is also a blazing hill that lights up the sky and can be seen for miles around!

Fire hill festival

The festival is held every year on the fourth Saturday of January (the 27th in 2018) and is thought to date back to the 18th century.

Just why a hill is set ablaze is a little unclear, but one theory is that it originated when a boundary conflict between three of Nara’s great temples escalated out of control. Other theories are that it was simply as a way of driving away wild boar or exterminating insects.

Matsuri in january in Japan

The festival gets going in the early afternoon, with a series of events including a giant senbei-throwing competition. You can try your hand at launching an oversized rice cracker – which will be gratefully gobbled up by the ubiquitous deer that roam Nara Park.

At around 5.30pm, a parade of Buddhist monks arrives at the foot of Mount Wakakusa with flaming torches. They stop at the Nogami shrine, says prayers and then light a bonfire. Next, all eyes turn skywards for a spectacular firework display.

Japanese fireworks

The pièce de résistance is the lighting of the grass on the hill. It’s not long before the whole of Mount Wakakusa is ablaze – a remarkable sight that can last up to an hour, depending on how dry the grass is.

Kyoto festival

Fancy experiencing the festival yourself?

Nara can be visited on a day trip from HOSHINOYA Kyotoa great base for exploring the famed temples of both cities.

Visit Kyoto by boat

Temple of Kyoto

Photo credits:
scjody / CC BY-SA
inkelv1122 / CC BY-NC
osiristhe / CC BY-ND
osiristhe / CC BY-ND
covanica / CC BY
nwhitely / CC BY-ND
covanica / CC BY



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