One Japanese festival which has been taking place for hundreds of years and has no clear origin is being done yearly on Mount Wakakusa (or Wakakusayama in Japanese), a high mountain located in Nara Prefecture. The festival is called “Yamayaki” which literally means “mountain roast” due to the burning of dead grass on the mountain. The festival takes place on the fourth Saturday of January but can be delayed if the weather is bad.
It is rather unclear how the festival actually started. One theory claims that the festival originated from a boundary dispute of two of Nara’s great temples: Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji. However, they couldn’t come to an agreement over the boundaries which resulted in setting the entire mountain ablaze. Another theory claims that the fires were used to drive away animals such as wild boars and harmful insects.
The festival takes place at noon. There are several small events that take place in the afternoon such as a giant senbei throwing competition! Around 5 pm, a procession of Buddhist monks depart from the Silk Road Exchange Hall in Nara Park towards Mizutani Bridge. It is along this route that they light torches. These are carried down to the foot of the hill.
The procession usually ends at 5:30 pm at Wakakusayama where hundreds of spectators are already waiting. About 200 fireworks are launched, and this exciting spectacle usually lasts for about 15 minutes. Then, the hills are ignited with the sacred fire which lasts for 30 minutes or so, depending on the condition of the grass. A fire brigade stands by to prevent the fire from spreading drastically.The view is quite spectacular, especially from Nara City. It may be more enjoyable if you bring binoculars along!
Wakakusayama can be reached on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station, but it takes around 35 minutes. You can also use buses from Kintetsu Nara Station or from JR Nara Station for 190 yen.
The festival is done during a cold season which is just perfect. However, make sure to keep yourself warm by wearing thick clothing. Enjoy the blazing mountain and spectacular fireworks this coming New Year!