Obon in Kyoto:
August, in Kyoto and Japan, is one of the hottest months of the year. Towards the middle of the month the Obon festival (お盆) is held and many people have some days off. In Kyoto the famous Gozan no Okuribi (五山送り火) is the highlight of this festival when the five giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding the city. For something different and mysterious and cooler, I decided to go to the Kasuga Shrine (春日神社) (花背の松上げ) fire festival, deep into the mountains.
Hanase no Matsuage:
Passing Kurama temple and following Rt. 38 towards Hanase village it took about an hour by car to reach the venue of the Hanase no Matsuage, a fire festival. It’s sometimes a steep, very curvy road with scenic surroundings. The air is also cooler which was a real bonus. The festival starts at 8.00 pm at the Kasuga Shrine (春日神社) just a few hundred meters before the venue. The local shinto priest, in a small ceremony, lights the sacred fire and gives it to two members of the Hanase no Matsuage matsuri, who in turn kindle the small fire and prepare it to lit the torches. These torches are called agematsu (上松).
When all is ready, the shinto priest followed by the two members of the Hanase no Matsuage matsuri, head towards the venue. The venue is a small area in front of the Katsuragawa River (桂川) and about 1.000 torches are standing in that field. In the middle of this field stands a pole with a huge basket at its top, about 20 meters high. This basket is called a tōrōgi (灯籠木).
The priest and his team meet up with the rest of the Hanase no Matsuage matsuri members and with torches ablaze they walk along the road and across the bridge towards the venue. The arduous task of setting ablaze the 1.000 torches begins then and when its finished the real fun begins. At the sound of a taiko drum and a bell the Hanase no Matsuage matsuri members start trowing their torches towards the tōrōgi basket. With loud shouts the fire torches are grown up in the air. Sometimes it takes a long time, one spectator noted, if they had to much sake.
It didn’t take long before the first torch landed in the basket followed by cheers and applause of the many spectators. More direct hits followed and the final climax, that everyone anticipated, came soon. With a loud roar and cheers the huge basket fell to the ground in a fiery explosion.
Obon and Hanase no Matsuage: See All Pictures Here!
This Hanase no Matsuage festival is connected to the obon matsuri in which fires or lanterns are lighted to guide the spirits of the dead back to they’re resting place. This festival is also held to pray for successful crops and to ward off fires. The sacred fire is connected with Mount Atago (愛宕山) a 924 meter mountain in the northwestern part of Ukyo-ku, Kyoto City. The Atago shrine on top of this mountain is dedicated to the Shinto deity in which people believe to protect them from fire disasters.
Final thoughts on the Hanase no Matsuage:
Although it’s a little difficult to reach this place, its well worth coming and experiencing the event. If you come by car, its best to arrive early so you can park at the Kōryū no Mori (交流の森) grounds. It seems there is a bus service from Demachiyanagi Station that leaves at 6.00 pm and returns around 11.00 pm. This is not a regular service but a chartered bus.