The Blaze Emerge Into the Nightscape of Kyoto - “Gozan Okuribi Bonfires”
When you see this for the first time in your life, you might think that the mountains are on fire. Once you see the spectacular silhouette lit by the raging flames, that worry will soon be gone. “Gozan Okuribi Bonfires” are annually held on August 16th at mountains including Nyoigatake (Daimonji Yama) in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, and beautifully illuminates the nightscape of Kyoto.
At 8:00 pm, the “Nyoigatake Daimoji” in Higashiyama, the most famous among five mountains, and being popular as people referring it as “Daimonji-san,” is lit. The rest of the mountains are lit from east to west in five-minute interval one after another: “Myoho”, “Funagata Mandoro (Ship-shaped lanterns),” “Hidari Daimonji (Left Daimonji,)” and ”Torii-gata (the shape of shrine gates).” The characters and shapes in orange all gradually get smaller and dimmed as the intensity of the fire weakens and finally get engulfed by the darkness of the night.
Okuribi bonfires of Gozan are closely associated with the religious rite, Urabone, which is to see off the spirits of ancestors with lighting the fire on either August 15th or 16th, that were welcomed on August 13th with welcoming fire. People see of the spirits of their ancestors with the red flame and the smokes coming along with the flames.
There are four characters and shapes in addition to Daimonji:
The first Okuribi bonfire to be lit and it is lit at 8:00 pm at Higashiyama Nyoigatake. It can be viewed from anywhere in Kyoto-shi.
The character “Myo” on Mount Mandoro and the character “Ho” on Mount Daikokuten are respectively lit at 8:05 pm. These are displayed on two separate mountains, however, these are treated as one word, “Myoho” (which means the teaching of Buddah).
The shape of a ship is lit on Mount Funa Nishigamo at 8:10 pm. It is based on a legend that the founder of Saiho-ji temple was able to survive the storm which he encountered on the way back from Tang Dynasty China, and safely returned to home as he was chanting Buddhist sutras.
The shape of a torii, the Shinto shrine gate, is lit on Mount Mandara in Saga Toriimoto. The flame from the bonfire here is orangy as compared to red in other mountains, since the fire floor used here is pine tree with pine resin unlike those used in other mountains.
The Hidari Daimonji, which is identical to the first daionji is lit on Mount Okita at 8:15 pm. It is distinctive, as it is lit by each stroke unlike other bonfires that are lit simultaneously.
”Gozan Okuribi” is a famous traditional event as one of the four great events in Kyoto. It’s a great opportunity that you don’t want to miss, where you can experience the flames and being surrounded by nature.