Yamayaki Festival 若草山焼き
Mount Wakakusa flares for Yamayaki festival.
The flames devour the hill.
The first fireworks lights up the sky of Nara.
Fire and brimstone
As early as midday, hustle and bustle takes hold of part of Nara and the first preparations for Yamayaki begin, including a fun sembei (rice cracker) throwing competition, useful for feeding the many deer that roam the city.
From 5pm, a procession tasked with setting Mount Wakakusa ablaze leaves Kasuga Taisha shrine. Bearing a sacred flame, the participants cross Nara-koen to arrive, about half an hour later, at the foot of the hill.
From there, the festivities can begin. At 6pm the first fireworks illuminate the Nara sky, the prelude to another dramatic illumination full of symbolism. The flames are ready to devour the hill... local firefighters stand on guard.
Monks and bears
Two legends are at the origin of the setting ablaze of Wakakusa. The first is said to involve the monks of Todaiji and Kofukuji, involved in an important conflict over the boundary between the two famous temples. It's said that the mountain, at the center of the disputes, was burned in the second half of the eighteenth century to end the quarrel. The second legend depicts equally belligerent participants, bears and insects, which, considered a threat to Nara, found themselves driven back to the city gates by huge fires! Today, there are no traces of the animals, but the monks are still there.
Shortly after 6pm, it's time for the show that sets the Nara sky alight, while the smell of burnt grass fills the air, and more fireworks can be heard in the city. Many visitors watch the show from the foot of the hill. The panoramic view from Nara-koen adds to the magic, provided that you arrive early enough to get a good spot.