The Kurama fire festival

Each year, on October 22nd, one of Japan’s most eccentric festivals is held in the Kyoto area: the Kuruma fire festival, or Kurama no hi matsuri.
 
Each year, more than 10 000 visitors come to admire the burning parade of some 250 torches. 

A mystical place

North of Kyoto, blanketed with dense forests of untouched nature, stands Mount Kurama.
 
It is said that the Japanese hero Minamoto no Yoshitsune (1157-1189) had learnt here the way of the sword from the Sojobo Tengu, king of the evil deities from Japanese folklore.
 
It is also there that the founder of the reiki, Usui Mikao, had the revelation of this practice while meditating. 
 

 


 

At the origin of the festival

The ancient capital Heian, now known as Kyoto, undermined by clan wars, was hit in 940 by a massive earthquake.
 
In order to protect the capital from new disasters, the Emperor decided to transfer the Yuki Myojin (the imperial court’s protector) sanctuary to Kurama, North of Kyoto. The North was considered as the gate for demons and evil spirits.
 
Inhabitants lit fires all along the road in order to facilitate the passage of the deities. The festival is a reconstitution of the torch parade that accompanied the imperial procession. 
 

 


Heavy torches

At dusk, bonfires or Kagaribi are lit up in front of the houses where the inhabitants expose the family treasures for the occasion (armors, painted screens, crockery…)
 
Then, children and adults dressed up in festive outfits, parade through the main street carrying homemade heavy pinewood torches called taimatsu on their backs.
The size and weight of the torches are proportional to the age of the person who carries it. The biggest ones are over 80kg and measure as much as 5 meters long!
 

 

The apotheosis 

Almost in a state of trance, the participants scream “saireya sairyo” (have a good festival). Miniature hotels or omikoshi leave from the unique onsen of the village for a parade that will end at the Yuki sanctuary, where the Shinto ceremony can start at last.
 
As the festival ends in a cloud of smoke and that the city people go back to the train station, the last festival-goers keep on feasting long after midnight. Don’t miss the last train!

 

How to get there?

It’s better to arrive early in order to avoid the crowds! You will be able to visit the Kurama temple and enjoy the view before taking a warm bath in the onsen.
 
There is a train pass including the two ways in train, the temple entry as well as the access to the onsen (1700 yens).



From Kyoto, take the train at Demachiyanagi station on the Eizan line. There are 3 trips per hour and the trip lasts about 30 minutes.
 
Try a local delicacy: the amazake (sweet drink made out of rice – with alcohol)
 
Don’t forget to bring warm clothes, as the nights can be chilly. 

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Watch a video of the festival


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