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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.






There are three theories remaining about how the Torii-gata ritual fire began.  One says that it derives from a ritual that the Buddhist priest, Kobo Daishi, held when he completed making a thousand stone Buddhist statues.  The second proposes that the fire was lit as a ceremonial fire dedicated to Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine as the mountain can be seen from the shrine.  The final one claims that this symbol representing a shrine gate which has a strong connection with Atago Shrine as there is a famous torii shrine gate at the entrance.  Around 8:00 on August 16th, people bring torches to the top of the mountain and prepare the fire bed at around 16:00.  Since they use pine trees containing resin, the fire appears brighter than the other fires.

Fire setting time: 20:20

Recommended watching spot: Matsuo Bridge, Hirosawa Pond

Goma amulet reception: In the Adashino Nenbutsuji Car Park: Goma wooden amulet: 300 yen; 13th-15th: 10:00-16:00, 16th: 9:00-15:00

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