People from all over the world celebrate New Year in unique ways. But have you heard of setting a whole mountain on fire for this celebration? Yes, Wakakusa Yamayaki is an annual festival of Japan, when people set mount Wakakusa on fire.
What is the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival?
Wakakusa is a 342-meter-high mountain, and it is at the eastern part of Nara Prefecture of Japan. Yamayaki means ‘burning a mountain’. Every year on the 4th Saturday of January, Wakakusa Mountain is set on fire along with breathtaking winter fireworks.
The fire that spreads all over the mountain paints a spectacular sight in the clear winter sky. Many other events, functions and activities are also organized on the day of the ceremony. This is actually a Shinto ritual meant to calm the spirit. This ritual is for the peace and comfort for the passed souls.
Some key facts about Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival:
- They have carried this festival out for centuries in Nara. This involves several temples and shrines.
- Mount Wakakusa is the symbol of Nara Park and people can see it from almost everywhere of the eastern Nara.
- During this festival, both the fire and fireworks are visible throughout the city.
- Two Buddhist Temples (Tōdai-ji & Kōfuku-ji) and a Shinto shrine (Kasuga Taisha) organize this festival every year. Tōdai-ji is the largest wooden building of the world.
- Nara park is very famous for the deer living there. Almost 1500 deer were spotted in the park.
- There is a forest and people can’t enter there for over one thousand years. Because the trees growing there are sacred.
Overview of Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival, Japan:
Wakakusa Yamayaki is one of the most colorful events of Japan. As we all know Japan is a country of culture and festival. Many travelers throughout the world come to visit this event every year. Near the mountain, there is an Imperial Palace. During the festival people, people hike to the palace to see the beautiful fire and fireworks.
In spring, many cherry trees bloom all over the Nara Park. You can also come here to enjoy the mesmerizing scenario of Cherry Blossoms.
History & Background of the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival?
Starting in the 18th century, the burning of Mount Wakakusa is one of Japan’s most spectacular winter festivals. There are many theories about the origin of this festival. Some people say a wild boar was disturbing the neighbors of the Wakakusa Mountain temple and shrines. To prevent them, people set on fire the Wakakusa Mountain to destroy their habitat.
People living on that mountain also believed in superstitions telling that if they do not burn the mountain, the ghost might return from their tombs and it could bring a misfortune to the neighbors. So, they set the mountain on fire. But this fire could be very dangerous for the residents, so the Nara government established a rule to burn the fire down on the very first month of the year in EDO period (1603-1868).
Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival Schedule?
This wonderful festival took place on the fourth Saturday of January every year. At the very first, they set the mountain on fire at noon. But in 1900, they changed the timing to night. The next Yamayaki festival is expected to be held on January 23, 2021. But because of terrible weather, this date could be delayed to a later date.
Beginning: This festival officially begins at noon with some minor events at the base of mount Wakakusa.
Sembai Event: Sembai event is actually a throwing competition of rice crackers (Sembai) that takes place from 12.30 pm to 15.30 pm.
Lighting the mountain on fire: Around 17.00 pm a procession of people set the mountain on fire.
Fireworks Display: At 18.15 pm, a 15-minute-long fireworks display is held.
How to Access:
Location: Mount Wakakusa, Nara City, Nara Prefecture
The base of Mount Wakakusa is a 10-15-minute walk from either Todai-ji Temple or Kasuga Taisha Shrine. The mountain is about 35 minutes on foot from Kintetsu Nara Station, and about 50 minutes on foot from JR Nara Station. Buses run from both stations as far as Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
Admission Fee: 150 yen.
Places to Visit During the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival:
- Base of Mt. Wakakusa: Mount Wakakusa (若草山, Wakakusa-yama), also known as Mount Mikasa (三笠山 Mikasa-yama), is a 342-metre-high (1,122 ft) hill located in Nara, Nara Prefecture, Japan, to the east of Nara Park. The mountain’s name literally translates to “young grass”.
- Ukigumo Park Area in Nara Park. From the position close to the base of Mt. Wakakusa, you can view Yamayaki in a beautiful landscape.
- Heijo Palace. Heijo Palace is popular among people as the best spot for photo taking. You can view the burning mountain as a whole.
- Tōdai-ji & Kōfuku-ji Temple and Kasuga Taisha shrine.
- Nara-koen Park: Nara Park is a public park located in the city of Nara, Japan, at the foot of Mount Wakakusa. Established in 1880 it is one of the oldest parks in Japan. Administratively, the park is under the control of Nara Prefecture.
- Isuien Garden. It is a small and interesting museum of arts. You can spend your morning visiting this place.
- Hōryū-ji Temple. It is one of the oldest temples of Japan and popular for its magnificent architecture.
- The Manyo Botanical Garden. If you are a tree lover you must visit this place. You can find over 150 different varieties of flowers in this garden.
Essential Tips to Help You Enjoy the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival:
- You must arrive early to the venue and don’t miss the historic parade at the beginning.
- Participants of the Yamayaki in ancient clothing carry the fire up the mountain for the burning. You can witness the people dressed as ancient government officials and mountain monks, so get there early if you can!
- Right before the burning a 15-minute-long firework display starts, so you should find a good place from where you can enjoy the harmony between the red-hot mountain and the wonderful fireworks.
- If you want to take some good photographs of the burning mountain, you might need the essential equipment. So, don’t forget to bring your camera with the proper kits.
- Nara is a home of temples and shrines. So, don’t forget to visit the most popular temples and shrines.
- And at the last, don’t forget to taste the delicious street foods throughout the Nara.
Safety Concerns During the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival:
- Many visitors come to enjoy this festival, so the place might be crowded. So, you must carry your belongings carefully.
- While visiting the Nara Park, you might want to feed the bowing deer. Be careful while feeding them.
- Wakakusa Mountain is a sacred place for both the Buddhist and Shinto followers. So be respectful to their beliefs.
- As I said before, Nara might be crowded during the festivals so you must book your tickets and hotel as early as possible.
- Dears could get sick from unintentionally eating trash left on the ground. So you have to be careful about throwing your trashes.
Wakakusa Yamayaki is one of the most popular and wonderful festival of Japan. Nara is the city of culture that attracts more than a million visitors every year. If you love to enjoy beautiful fireworks and want to know more about Japanese tradition and culture then Wakakusa Yamayaki festival is the best choice, we can suggest.
Frequently Asked Questions About Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival:
- Should I stay overnight in Nara?
Answer: Nara is a beautiful place for the tourist. There are many tourist places which can surprise the visitors. We suggest you to stay overnight in Nara, if you want to visit all the beautiful places.
- What are the best places to stay in Nara?
Answer: Tsukihitei, Koto-No-Yado Musashino and Kasuga Hotel are the best places for staying. These places offer the visitors a mixture of traditional Japanese society and culture. But these might be very expensive. So we suggest you Hotel Nikko Nara, Hotel New Wakasa and Super Hotel Lohas JR Nara-eki as these hotels have affordable rates.
- Which street foods we must try during our stay?
Answer: You must try Mochi (130 yen), Persimmon Leaf Sushi (1300 yen), Deer Poop (430 yen), Seasonal Soft-Serve Ice Cream (350 yen) and Dorayaki (120 yen) during your stay in Nara.
- Is Nara worth visiting?
Answer: If you want to enjoy and feel the old Japan, then Nara is the best choice for you. Spending the day in Nara can relax you.
- What is the best time to go to Nara Park?
Answer: You can visit Nara anytime of the year. But if you want to enjoy the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival, then you have to come here in the last week of January.