Festivals & Events
On the fourth Saturday of every January, the slopes of Mt. Wakakusa near Nara are set alight, with the resulting flames so big and bright that they can be seen all over the city and from as far away as the former Heijo Palace.
This carefully planned and choreographed act of pyromania is known as Yamayaki (the burning mountain) and is part of a festival that has been carried out for centuries in Nara and involves several temples and shrines.
While the area is quite far from Nara's major train stations, Mt. Wakakusa can easily be reached by bus or on foot.
It takes approximately 20 to 30 minutes to walk to Mt. Wakakusa from Kintetsu-Nara Station, and 40 minutes from JR Nara Station. The streets will be crowded with onlookers.
Alternatively, as the torchbearers start their walk to the mountain near Kasuga Taisha, you can take one of the buses that run to Kasuga Taisha and follow the procession.
The festival's main procession starts at 5 p.m., with monks dressed in period costumes, some blowing conch shells, and musicians playing traditional court music. Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, and Kasuga Shrine are all involved with the ceremonies of this event.
The festival itself begins at Kasuga Taisha, where holy men pick up torches lit with sacred fire and then proceed to Mizuya Temple before traveling up the mountain to light a giant bonfire prepared for the festival. Just after dark, many fireworks are sent aloft.
The sight of the white-robed torch carriers with their flaming torches hiking up the mountain and the fire slowly spreading across the grassy slopes, however, is the highlight of the event.
When the burning is finished, fire brigades from all over Nara help extinguish the flames.