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August 16th, Blazing fires lit under the summer sky

Gozan no Okuribi Fire Ritual

The Gozan no Okuribi is a traditional religious ritual held in the summer.  Every year on August 16th, this ritual marks the end of the Buddhist summer events following other ceremonies like Manto-e candle lighting and Matsu-age fire rituals.  Buddhist symbols appear on the five mountains surrounding the city.There are various accounts of how the Gozan no Okuribi started, but it is proven that people climbed up the mountain and made the characters with torch light in their hands until around the Edo period (1600-1868).On August 16th, at 20:00, streetlights in the city are turned off all at once and the first fire is set on Higashiyama Nyoigatake (Mount Daimonji).  The “Dai” character gradually appears and this is the beginning of the fire ritual.  Following the “Dai,” “Myo” on Mount Mantoro, “Ho” on Mount Daikokuten, “Funa-gata” on Mount Nishigamo Funayama and “Hidari Daimonji” on Mount Okita are set.  The last character, “Torii-gata” on Mount Mandara in Saga Toriimoto is set at 20:20.  People remember their family members and ancestors with great solemnity while observing the characters.





The Origins of the Gozan no Okuribi  

The Gozan no Okuribi fire ritual is a part of traditional Urabon Buddhist ceremony.  It is said that the ritual began in the Nara period (710-794) and spread throughout the nation as Buddhism prevailed in the Heian period (794-1185).  People welcome the spirits of the deceased in mid-August and send them back to the Buddhist Pure Land again with fire to guide the spirit.  This tradition settled into the people’s lives during the Kamakura period.

Fujin-gaho,June issue,2013 Published on 13.06.28

Translation to English by AD BRAIN INC. Fujin-gaho,June issue,2013 Published on 13.06.28