Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival of Nara in Japan

japanAside from being a former capital of Japan during the 8th Century, the city of Nara has been known for its historic monuments that have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as its preservation of old-fashioned customs that still exist today.

One of its famous traditional festivals comes in every January 14. The Wakakusa Yamayaki welcomes spring by burning the city’s 342-meter hill. Its origins have been shrouded in mystery. Some say that the festival began as a land dispute between competing temples, but others provide a more likely explanation that the fires are a remnant of a traditional burning of the fields.

It has been customary in ancient Japan to burn agricultural fields to get rid of pests while promoting fresh growth of plants during spring. However, the temples and shrines surrounding Nara decided to proclaim a single day of the year for such activity, as the fires may get out of control.

The festival begins at around late afternoon with priests conducting purification rituals and prayers for safety during the event. After a fireworks display, the monks then blow on conch shells as priests dressed as warriors ignited the hill’s dead winter grass using sacred torches bearing the symbols of Kasuga shrine. This process was assisted by members of the Nara Fire Brigade.

The fire spreads on its own until the whole hill is wrapped in flames about an hour after being ignited. The large fire lights up the winter sky in a dramatic fashion, while spectacular fireworks spark in the background.

Although the fires can be seen even from a miles away, the festival is viewed by residents and tourists from the foot of the hill in Nara Park. However, you need to note that this event is witnessed by hundreds of thousands of people, so expect swollen crowds during the festival.

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