Set a hill on fire to keep the ghosts away

The poem “Ghosts, Fire and Water” Iri Maruki and Toshiko Akamatsu also deal with the connection between ghosts and fire. The practice of using fire for expulsion of evil spirits and such, was widespread and shared by ancient peoples including Russians, Europeans and Balinese in the past, see James Frazier’s “The Golden Bough

Nara to set hill on fire for good harvest
Friday, Jan. 14, 2011
News photo
This fire: Nara firefighters control the flames. NARA CITY TOURIST ASSOCIATION


Nara to set hill on fire for good harvest

Staff writer

Even though Nara’s 1,300th birthday party is over, the action continues.

The annual yamayaki (grass- burning) festival is scheduled for Jan. 22 and will take place on Mount Wakakusa in central Nara. It should be quite a spectacle.

The ritualistic burning of the 342-meter-tall hill dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867), when people reportedly started torching the grass due to the widely-held belief that ghosts would haunt them if they didn’t.

Today, the festival is organized by local government agencies and merchants, and the main duties are handled by local firefighters, who, at the signal of a conch horn, set the 33 hectares of grass ablaze. Fireworks will also be launched to add even more color to the scene.

Before the start of the fireworks and the grass burning at 6 p.m., concerts and a unique contest in which participants see how far they can throw shika senbei(biscuits for wild deer in Nara Park) will be held at the foot of the hill.

Mount Wakakusa will be off-limits to the public, but tourists can get a good view of the blaze and fireworks from across the city. To get to the foot of the hill, taking a local bus from Kintetsu Nara Station is strongly recommended as many roads will be closed to for cars on the day.

The Wakakusa Hill burning takes place in Nara on Jan. 22. If it rains, the event will be held Jan. 29. For details, call the Nara Prefectural Government at (0742) 27-1515

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