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.
But there is also a blazing hill that lights up the sky and can be seen for miles around!
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.
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.
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.
Fancy experiencing the festival yourself?