Hillsides of Kyoto to flame up with words


Staff Writer

The world’s largest bonfires will illuminate the hillsides of Kyoto’s surrounding mountains Aug. 16 bringing this year’s Bon festival to a close.

The Gozan no Okuribi, or ceremonial bonfires, are formed in the shapes of various Japanese characters. The most famous of these is lit on Mount Daimonji and takes the form of the kanji “dai,” meaning “large.” After that bonfire is set ablaze at around 8 p.m., four other gigantic fires are lit in approximately 10-minute intervals. By 8:30 p.m. all the hillsides will be alight, each lasting for about 30 minutes.

As tradition dictates, the bonfires mark not only the end of the festival but also the final day that ancestral spirits will be among the living before they depart back to the spirit realm. People take time during the Bon festival to visit and clean their ancestors’ graves and pay respects at family altars. Prior to the bonfires, prayers and wishes for health and family welfare are written on pieces of wood that will be taken to the mountains for burning.

From Nakagyo Ward, at the center of Kyoto, you can get a clear view of all five bonfires. Many locals will also head to the Kamo River, between Sanjo and Imadegawa Streets, for the best view.

The Gozan no Okubiri takes place Aug. 16 from 8:30 p.m. on the hills surrounding Kyoto.