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Kyoto, Gozan no Okuribi

In Kyoto along with the Aoi Matsuri (The Hollyhock Festival), the Gion Festival, and Jidai Matsuri (The Parade of Eras), we have the Gozan no Okuribi in mid-August, which is locally called “Daimonji”.

 

“Daimonji” is a traditional Obon event on every August 16th. On that day, giant bonfires surrounding Kyoto City are set alight in 5 mountains starting from 20:00.

By doing this bonfire, we will deliver the spirit of our ancestors, who first arrived in Obon, to the world without getting lost.

These bonfires are known individually as “Daimonji”, “Hidari Daimonji”, and “Myo-hou”. The other two fires are in the shapes of a boat and a Shinto shrine gate respectively and are called the “Funagata” and “Toriigata”. 

There are a number of stories about the origins of “Daimonji”. The event has long been close to the hearts of the Kyoto people and is said to have roots in the 13th century. This tradition is tied together with beliefs surrounding memorial services for departed ancestors on August 15 known as Obon Festival.

At the first day, in each home we set out fire to guide the ancestors’ spirits back home. We offer fruits, food, tea and sweets at the family’s Buddhist altar. During the obon season, the ancestors and we spend the time together.

At the end of Obon period, we have the Okuribi which is meant to guide the souls of the ancestors who return to their world beyond. This is the Daimonji event. The Okuribi are also believed to protect against evil. In addition, drinking water which reflects the light of the Daimonji is believed to prevent illness.

This event happens at the end of the Kyoto summer and we are ready to move into the autumn season, although it is still very hot.

 I could see some Daimonji from my house when I was a child, but recently people cannot see them because of the high buildings. Also, in my primary school, we walked to the one of the mountains for a botanical class or run a marathon at the physical class. Accordingly, we are very familiar with these mountains on daily base, not only at the Daimonji event.

Unfortunately, the event will be reduced, due to COVIT-19. I sincerely hope that this traditional event will last long and will be passed on to the next generation forever.

Stay tuned for the next post.

Written by Yoshimi Matsuta