Sep. 02, 2019 UPDATE

Lighting up Kyoto’s Summer Night Sky – Gozan no Okuribi!

We checked out the yearly festival of Gozan no Okuribi
Gozan no Okuribi

Singeing itself into the night sky of Kyoto summers, the famous Gozan no Okuribi festival stands among the ranks of Aoi Matsuri, Gion Matsuri, and Jidai Matsuri as one of Kyoto’s four major festivals.

Every year on August 16, the five mountains that surround Kyoto city are set ablaze, sending the spirits of the deceased, called shorai, to the afterlife.

The schedule is as follows:

Daimonji – the 大 character: 8 PM on Daimonji-yama (Mt. Nyoigatake)

Myō/Hō – the 妙・法characters: 8:05 PM in Matsugasaki on the Nishi-yama, and Higashi-yama mountains

Funagata – the boat-like character: 8:10 PM in Nishigamo on Funa-yama mountain

Hidari (left) Daimonji – the大character again: 8:15 PM on Hidaridaimonji (Mt. Daihoku) Toriigata – the shape of a torii shrine gate: 8:20 PM near Toriimoto (Mt. Mandara)

This year, the Sharing Kyoto team split up and ventured out to take photos of all six characters.

In this article, we’ll introduce you to the best spots for viewing these magnificent and commanding bonfires.


大文字 – Daimonji

DaimonjiTime: 8 PM~


Best Spots: West Kamogawa Riverbank between the Marutamachi-bashi and Misono-bashi bridges.

    - Keihan Line: Demachiyanagi Station 

    - Jingū-Marutamachi Station


Daimonji is the first fire to be lit out of the six Gozan no Okuribi fires.

It’s believed that the Buddhist monk Kukai Kōbō-Daishi started the Okuribi memorial service and a small temple dedicated to Kukai called Daishido was built on the mountain.

The name Daimonji and character on the mountainside were chosen because of the double 大 that came from having Kōbō-Daishi (大師) and Daishido (大師堂) together.



妙法 – Myō / Hō

Myō
Hō

Time: 8:05 PM~8:35 PM


Best Spots:

妙 – Myō:

    - Kitayama-dori by Kyoto Notre Dame University

    - 20 minutes’ walk west from the Shūgakuin Station on the Eizan Electric Railway Line   


法 – Hō:

    - Takano River bank north of Takano-bashi Bridge         

    - 20 minutes’ walk north from the Demachiyanagi Station on the Keihan Line


While Myō and Hō are on two separate mountains, they are considered one mountain and one character. 

According to the history of the Yusen-ji Temple, the people of the Matsugasaki Village converted to Nichiren Buddhism and began using the Namu Myōhō Renge Kyō mantra. The origins of the two characters used on the mountainside lie within this name, Myōhō Renge Kyō, which is the Japanese name for the Lotus Sutra.



舟形 – Funagata (Shape of a Boat)

FunagataTime: 8:10 PM~8:40 PM


Best Spot: Kitayama-dori

    - Kitaoji Station on the Karasuma Subway Line


This boat-shaped character represents the boat that takes the spirits to the afterlife. It is also believed that the bow of the boat is facing west toward the western pure land of Mahayana Buddhism.


左大文字 – Hidari (left) Daimonji

Hidari (left) DaimonjiTime: 8:15 PM~8:45 PM


Best Spots: Nishioji-dori

    - Enmachi Station on the JR San’in Line

    - Kitanohakubaicho Station on the Randen Line

          

Hidari Daimonji is said to have begun sometime during the Edo Period; however, details around its origins are sadly unknown.



鳥居形 – Toriigata (the shape of a shrine gate)

ToriigataTime: 8:20PM~20:50PM


Best Spot:

    - Matsuo-bashi Brdige

    - Matsunoo-taisha stop on the Raiden Tram


Found on a west Kyoto mountainside, this fire shaped like a torii Shinto shrine gate is said to have its origins in the gate to the Atago Shrine. The shape of the bonfire is said to represent the divinity of the Atago Shrine and protect Kyoto from disasters. 




Notes:


・Drinks

  It gets very hot while you’re waiting for the fires to start, so please do not forget to hydrate.


・Lights

  It gets very dark, and you might lose your footing, so we recommend, especially to those with children, to bring a light.


・Bug Spray

  Parks and dark areas are infested with bugs, so we recommend making sure you have bug spray with you.

Vanessa[ Sharing Kyoto Staff ]
For the time that they burn themselves into the night sky, these mountainside characters transform the entire atmosphere of the ancient city. Each character holds its own significance, origin story, and traditional ceremonies and events that surround it, so this festival is one that, year after year, touches the hearts of not only Japanese locals, but those visiting from overseas too. As this festival is held only once a year, we highly, highly recommend seeing it for yourself if you have the chance.
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