Here's How Japan Celebrates its Mountain Fire Festival

Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival
Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival | © Nagoya Taro Wikimedia

On the fourth Saturday of January, while fireworks light up the night sky in Nara, a mountain comes to life in a fiery haze. The festival, known as Yamayaki, originally started as a land dispute between Kofuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple in the 18th century. The heated confrontation led to the burning of the dry grass on Mount Wakakusa, which was at the heart of the feud. Setting alight the entire mountain is now an annual ritual and, has been carried out every year for hundreds of years in the name of tradition.

The celebrations begin in the afternoon, with a range of activities and food stalls setting up base around the foot of the mountain. As darkness begins to fall, torches are lit with sacred fire by monks at nearby Kasuga Taisha Shrine, who carry them in a procession to the bottom of the mountain before lighting a bonfire and conducting a special ceremony. The grass is then set ablaze by priests from both Kofuku-ji and Todai-ji – a symbolic act of brotherly love – whilst onlookers watch as the flames slowly progress to the peak.
Mount Wakakusa as seen in autumn, before being spectacularly set alight.

Mount Wakakusa

As light begins to fall, preparations for the festival start.

Nara mountain burning during Yamayaki

Flaming torches are carried to the foot of the mountain by monks.

Procession to the bonfire

After a special ceremony, the mountain is set alight in a blaze of glory.

Bonfire and grassfire at Yamayaki

The grassfire burns bright into the night, creating a mesmerizing scene.

Fire at Mt. Wakakusa

After the initial blaze has begun, 200 fireworks are set off.

Firework displays during Yamayaki

The burning of Mount Wakakusa as seen from a distance in Nara City, Nara Prefecture, Japan.

Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

close-ad
Edit article