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Yamayaki: Nara’s Mountain Burning Festival

Last month, I went to the city of Nara – and it was amazing! The small city is full of traditional Japanese buildings and temples and as you may be aware, deer roam pretty much anywhere they damn want to. In case you didn’t catch my post about the Beautifull city (as well as Osaka and Nagoya, too) you can find it here

That’s why I was surprised when I found out the beautiful grassy mountain known as Wakakusa that I climbed while I was there was actually created by a controlled fire. The fire is a part of the Yamayaki festival (literally translated as mountain-roasting). The festival takes place each January and begins with the ceremonial lighting of a torch at Kasuga Taisha Shrine.

From there, the group carries the torches along the city, towards Mount Wakakusa, an extinct volcano that rises 350 meters above the city. On a normal day, you can pay 200 yen ($2) to climb the mountain to see a spectacular view of the city. You’ll, of course, encounter plenty of deer on the 20-minute walk to the top of the hill. Since it’s a 40-minute round trip, you should probably take a bottle of water with you – especially if it’s hot.

On the actual night of Yamayaki, fireworks are set off at 6 pm and then the mountain roasting begins. 

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Why burn the mountain?

The tradition which has been continuing since the Edo period is said to help kill insects that are harmful to insects and helps fertilize the former volcanoes soils. The festival is also seen as a ceremony held for spirits and deities but the actual origins are unclear. Some speculate it started out as a dispute between temples, while others say it was done to scare boars away.

These days, however, the festival is a community event that requires the help of many firefighters. Each year, over 100,000 tourists come to spectate the unique event. 

Here is the link to the official website, that includes dates and times of when the event is held.

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