The Gozan no Okuribi is a Buddhist event held in Kyoto every year that marks the end of the Obon season.
During Obon, Japanese families hold ceremonies to welcome the spirits of their ancestors to their homes during a 3-day period – from August the 13th to the 16th.
Gozan Okuribi: I Choose You!
<Flickr | Izu navi>
As if invoking Charizard’s Fire Blast, five large bonfires are lit up in the mountains around Kyoto. The fires serve as a means for the spirits of the families’ ancestors to return to the other side after their visit.
Although it is difficult to trace the beginnings of the Daimonji, this tradition is believed to have its origins in the Muromachi period (14th-16th century) since there are representations of the fires traced back to the Edo Period (17th-19th century).
The ceremony requires careful preparation since the area needs to get ready for the Fire Blast impact! The Daimonji Preservation group is tasked with preparing the locations and collecting the gomaji.
Wish Upon a Gomagi
The gomagi are wooden strips of cedar in which family members write prayers honoring their ancestors and ask for their well-being.
The gomagi can be purchased on the day before the ceremony in Kyoto’s Shrines. The written gomagi are later carried to the bonfire to be burned in the events, wishing that the smoke will raise the family’s prayers to the Heavens.
BonFire Blasts: Flames on the 5 Peaks of Kyoto.
The lighting up of the Bonfires starts at 20:00 on August the 16th, each fire is lit up in a particular mountain 5 to 10 minutes after the last one, and each Bonfire lasts about 30 minutes. The Kamo river next to the Sanjo and Imadegawa locations is an iconic spot for viewing the fires.
* The Daimonji Fire: The opening “Fire Blast” of the ceremony. Thus it is also the most widely known. The lights line up to form the “Ooki” kanji (大), which means big. This fire is lit up on the Daimonji-yama mountain.
* The Myo and Hyo Kanji Fires: about the Buddhist Dharma. These fires are lit at approximately 20:10 in the Nishi-yama and Higashi-yama mountains.
* The Funagata Fire: It is a drawing of a boat that is lit up at 20:15 in the Funa-yama Mountain, it is said to represent a vehicle in which the spirits can travel back to the other world.
* The Hidari Daimonji Fire: is an “Ooki” (大) kanji lit-up on the Daihoku-san mountain at 20:20h.
* The Toriigata Fire: lit at Mandara-san Mountain at 20:20h, it is a representation of a shrine gate.
The event can get very crowded, but it is an incredible sight to look at, and by understanding it as a part of the Obon celebrations it has a special meaning.
Of all the ways in which the Japanese send off their loved ones back into the spirit world, this one is the most popular, and the greatest. It combines the lighting of lanterns by the river and the paths of fire into one unique celebration, which you definitely can’t miss.