Wakakusa Yamayaki: Video Introduction
This video, titled "'Yamayaki' Mountain Burning and Fireworks at a Traditional Winter Event on Mt. Wakakusa, Nara" (冬の風物詩・奈良の伝統行事『若草山焼き』：『Yamayaki』Mountain Burning and Fireworks at Mt.Wakakusa in Nara), was uploaded by "Nara Tourism Concierge JUN" (奈良観光コンシェルジュ JUN).
Wakakusa Yamayaki is a traditional winter event held on Mt. Wakakusa in Nara city, Nara prefecture, as a requiem for the souls of the deceased that rest in Uguisuzuka Kofun (Uguisuzuka Tumulus), a keyhole-shaped burial mound located on the summit of Mt. Wakakusa. Today, the three major temples and shrines in Nara, Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Kofukuji Temple, and Todaiji Temple, unite to hold this event to repose the souls of our ancestors, to pray for protection of the entire Nara area from fire, and to wish for the peace of people all over the world.
Wakakusa Yamayaki takes place on the fourth Saturday of January every year, and many tourists come to Nara to watch to see the both the event and the fireworks show. Amidst the solemn atmosphere, the night sky of the ancient capital of Nara is decorated with fireworks and roaring flames, and the sight of the mountains rising up in the darkness is truly divine. Be sure to check out the amazing footage in the video before reading along.
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Mt. Wakakusa Highlights and Characteristics
Photo：A deer on Mt. Wakakusa, Nara Prefecture
Mt. Wakakusa is a famous tourist spot and a symbol of Nara. It is a small, gently sloping mountain 342 meters above sea level with an expanse of grass called "Noshiba." The mountain is also referred to as "Uguisuyama" due to the presence of the large keyhole-shaped tumulus Uguisuzuka Kofun, and "Mikasayama" (三笠山, lit. "Mountain of three hats") because it looks like three kasa (straw hats) stacked on top of each other. The mountain is also home to many deer.
The summit provides a panoramic view of Nara Park and the city of Nara, and the night view of Nara from the top of the mountain has been recognized as one of the Top 3 Night Views of New Japan because of its beauty. When the mountain is open to the public, visitors can enjoy a 30-minute climb to the summit. The mountain is home to cherry blossoms, autumn leaves, and mountain burnings, offering beautiful views in every season.
Wakakusa Yamayaki, a fire festival that signals a visit from spring, is popular among Nara residents and tourists alike as a wintertime tradition in Nara. It is held every year on the fourth Saturday in January, and this year it's scheduled to be held on Saturday, January 28, 2023.
The History and Significance of Wakakusa Yamayaki
Photo：Uguisuzuka Kofun, Mt. Wakakusa
Wakakusa Yamayaki originated as a festival to appease the spirits buried in Uguisuzuka Kofun at the top of Mt. Wakakusa. People in the past feared that ghosts buried in Uguisuzuka Kofun would appear, so they decided to burn the mountain to prevent ghosts from appearing. From there, superstition spread that bad things would happen if Mt. Wakakusa was not burned, and there have been many incidents of people passing by the mountain setting it on fire without permission.
In December 1738, the Nara Magistrate's Office issued an ordinance banning arson on Mt. Wakakusa, but even still it continued, and nearby temples and shrines, including Todaiji Temple, a famous World Heritage site, were in danger of catching fire. As a result, toward the end of the Edo period (approx. 1853 to 1868 A.D.), Todaiji Temple, Kofukuji Temple, and the Nara Magistrate's Office, all of which are located near Mt. Wakakusa, began to cooperate in the burning of the mountain.
Today, the Shinto and Buddhist traditions of Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Kofukuji Temple, and Todaiji Temple work together to conduct this traditional event, which is meant to repose and comfort the souls of the dead, prevent fires throughout Nara, and pray for the peace of people around the world.
Where to See Wakakusa Yamayaki and Fireworks
Photo：Wakakusa Yamayaki, Nara Prefecture
One of the reasons why Wakakusa Yamayaki is so popular is that visitors can enjoy fireworks in winter. During Wakakusa Yamayaki, a large fireworks display is held with beautiful midwinter night sky. Once the fireworks start, the mountain is ignited simultaneously. Among the fireworks, there's Nara Prefecture's specialty "shakudama." This massive firework, with a one-foot diameter, measures 320 meters in diameter when it explodes, making it one of the most powerful fireworks in Nara Prefecture and heightening the anticipation for the Wakakusa Yamayaki fireworks display.
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Here, we'll introduce viewing spots where you can enjoy both the fireworks and the Wakakusa Yamayaki mountain burning. First, we will introduce viewing spots around Nara Park, where pre-registration was required in 2022 to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, although details other than the 2023 schedule have yet to be announced.
●Daibutsuden Intersection (Ukigumo Enchi)
At the Daibutsuden Intersection in front of Ukigumo Enchi (Ukigumo Park, 浮雲園地) and by the Daibutsuden Kasuga Taisha-mae Bus Information Center (大仏殿 春日大社前バス案内所, Daibutsuden Kasuga Taisha-mae Basu Annaijo), visitors can enjoy a nice view of Wakakusa Yamayaki. There's a bus stop and a parking lot as well, making this a popular spot for viewing the event.
Kasugano Enchi (Kasugano Park, 春日野園地) is a grassy open space located near the Daibutsuden Intersection. It's a spacious location where visitors can enjoy the fireworks and Wakakusa Yamayaki with an outstanding view.
In order to appreciate the grandeur of Wakakusa Yamayaki in the vicinity of Nara Park, advance registration may be required in 2023 as it was in 2022. For details on pre-registration, traffic restrictions, and changes to the event, please check the official website for up-to-date information before visiting.
Other viewing spots are as follows:
Sarusawa Pond (猿沢池, Sarusawa-ike) is a good spot to enjoy fireworks under the five-story pagoda of Kofukuji Temple. Although you have to climb up the hill to the five-story pagoda of Kofukuji to see the fireworks, you can take pictures of the five-story pagoda illuminated by the fireworks and the flames from Wakakusa Yamayaki.
●Rooftop of Nara Prefectural Office
The rooftop of the Nara Prefectural Office Building (奈良県庁屋上, Nara Kencho Okujo) is open to the public on the day of Wakakusa Yamayaki. There is a lottery system in place to select viewers, so you need to apply in advance, but if you win, you can enjoy a relaxing view from the rooftop of the Nara Prefectural Office Building.
At Heijo Palace, visitors can enjoy a fantastic collaboration of Suzakumon Gate, fireworks, and the burning mountainside. The romantic view from here is recommended for dates.
Wakakusa Yamayaki will be streamed live on YouTube, so if you're unable to make the event, consider watching it from the comfort of your own home!
Summary of Wakakusa Yamayaki
Photo：Wakakusa Yamayaki, Nara Prefecture
The sight of the flames spreading over Mt. Wakakusa, a symbol of the ancient capital of Nara, is unforgettable. The night sky becomes colored by the flames from Wakakusa Yamayaki and the fireworks that are set off just before the event, and you'll be able to enjoy the divine sight of the mountain emerging in the darkness. Come to Nara this winter and experience a visit from spring with a trip to Wakakusa Yamayaki.
【Address】469 Zoshi-cho, Nara City, Nara Prefecture
【Mountain Opening Period】The Third Saturday in March - Second Sunday in December
【Hours】9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. (Excluding temporary openings of the mountain)
【Admission Fee】Adults (Junior high school, high school, and college students) ¥150, Elementary school students ¥80
【Access】A 12-minute walk from the Daibutsuden Kasuga Taisha-mae bus stop by city loop bus from JR Nara Station or Kintetsu Nara Station.
Car: Nara Okuyama Driveway's "Shin-Wakakusa Mountain Course" (新若草山コース, Shin-Wakakusa Yama Kosu)