若草山焼きEvery year around the last weekend of January.
The tradition of the Mt. Wakakusa Field Burning Ceremony dates back to the 18th century. The most popular theory is that the ceremony started because of a land dispute between Kofukuji Temple and Todaiji, two large Buddhist complexes in the area which have been vying for prestige and political influence since Nara was the capital of Japan. Another theory suggests that the fire is meant to ward off spirits and drive them back beyond the mountain, in something that was meant to be a modified version of Obon flames (which give a friendly send off to visiting spirits of ancestors, such as the Gozan Okuribi event in Kyoto).
The modern ceremony attracts a number of tourists to Nara, which prepares a number of stage events at the foot of the mountain and other sites (especially Heijokyo, since 2015).
After sunset, to start the main ceremony priests and monks from 3 major landholding orders around the mountain (Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple and Kasuga Shrine) start a symbolic fire which is carried up the mountain to ignite the field brush. The fire is then managed by the fire department (with backpack water sprayers and simple tools). The mountain continues to burn for several hours from about 7pm-10pm.
There is a fireworks show that is timed to coincide with the start of the field burning.
Since 2015, the Heijokyo Palace sight (west of the city, near Yamato Saidaiji) has been hosting crowds with the Otateyama festival which parades large fiberglass light figures in the shape of the Four Heavenly Kings (Shitennou).
Photo journal from 1/25/2015:
|The mountain burning in full swing with a human perimeter of firefighters.|
|A Peruvian pan pipe group performing for the incoming crowds.|
I think this same group still appears at various public gatherings around the Osaka area.
|Bursts of fireworks outline the ridge of Mt. Wakakusa.|
|A fence around the perimeter of the field.|
|The silhouette of a firefighter on the edge of the fire.|
|Smoke rolling over the slope of the mountain.|
|A halo of illuminated smoke rising over the mountain.|
|A performer on stage with showing off some modern fashion.|
|A fashion performance show.|
|The crowds at the base of Mt. Wakakusa gathered around the stage.|
|A group of masked heroes; Tokushima Souryujin...?|
Here the local mascot, Sento-kun makes a stage appearance with them.
|Fashion show; with a man who looks like a Star Wars villain.|
|Staff tending a sacred fire in an area marked by shimenawa (sacred ropes).|
|The end of the event with a few people still lingering around the last flame.|