Wakakusa Yamayaki: The Mountain Burning Festival

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Fireworks are a great way to celebrate any occasion, but like NuanQuan’s molten iron throwing festival, the Japanese city of Nara (the city of deer) has taken their festivities a notch higher.

Just behind Nara Park, stands an old, extinct volcano, called Mount Wakakusa, that rises gently to a height of 350 meters. From its peak, one can have unobstructed views of the entire city. Mount Wakakusa is hence very popular for walking and strolling. The mountain is covered by grass, and lining the slope of the mountain are cherry trees that are usually in full bloom around early April. But as winter approaches, the grass begins to die and the cherry trees lose their leaves and the mountain looks very bald. This is when the famous Wakakusa Yamayaki festival takes place.

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Photo credit: Nagoya Taro/Wikimedia

On the fourth Saturday of each January, the dead grass is set on fire. This is known as “Yamayaki”, which is literally, “mountain roast”. The origins of Wakakusa Yamayaki are unclear, but the tradition supposedly originated from a boundary dispute between two temples, Todai-ji and Kōfuku-ji in 1760. When the mediations failed, the entire mountain was set ablaze. Another theory claims that the fires were set to drive away wild boars.

Today, the ceremonies are conducted by Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Shrine. The festivities start with the ceremonial lighting of a torch at Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The fire is then carried in a parade to the foot of the mountain where a large bonfire it lit. At 6 pm there is a spectacular fireworks display over the mountain. Once the fireworks are complete, the grass on the mountain is set on fire. The burning of the mountain can take anywhere from 30 minutes to one hour depending on how dry the grass is. The spectacular fire can be seen from all over Nara.

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Photo credit: iris/Flickr

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Photo credit: iris/Flickr

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Photo credit: iris/Flickr

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Photo credit: iris/Flickr

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Photo credit: iris/Flickr

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Photo credit: iris/Flickr

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Photo credit: Rocky T/Flickr

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Mount Wakakusa or Wakakusayama. Photo credit: Nagoya Taro/Wikimedia

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The grass on Mount Wakakusa or Wakakusayama. Photo credit: Martin Abegglen/Flickr

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Mount Wakakusa or Wakakusayama. Photo credit: Jessica/Flickr

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The view of the city from Mount Wakakusa or Wakakusayama. Photo credit: Jessica/Flickr

Sources: Wikipedia / www.japan-guide.com

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