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Festivals of Japan: Daimonji Yaki in Kyoto

Daimonji Yaki is a spectacular ancient festival in Kyoto that is a wonderful end to the long hot summer in Japan.

By 2 min read

Daimonji Yaki also commonly known as Daimonji Gozan Okuribi is a festival which forms part of the Obon celebrations in Kyoto. Enormous bonfires are set alight on five mountains in Kyoto in the shape of Chinese characters and other symbols to help guide our ancestors back to the spiritual world after Obon.

It is believed that our ancestors return to this world during Obon to visit their descendants. Daimonji Yaki is considered to be one of Japan’s most impressive spectacles and is a highlight of summer in Kyoto.

Daimonji Yaki is the culmination of the Obon festival and is performed on the evening of August 16th to bid farewell to the souls of our ancestors. It signifies the moment when the spirits leave our world for the spiritual world. The official name of the festival is Daimonji Gozan Okuribi, where gozan means five mountains, and okuribi means send-off fire in Japanese.

The largest fire is always burned on Mount Daimonji, which is located just above the famous Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto. The fires start at 8 pm with one of the best spots to watch them being from the cool banks of the Kamo River.

The origins of the festival are believed to lie in the ancient roots of Obon with specific families having the hereditary duty of organising the logistics of the bonfires. The festival is held every year on August 16th.

Festival Highlights

The highlight of the festival is the largest and most famous bonfire on Mount Daimonji, which is the first to be lit from 8:00 pm. The character dai (大) which means large or great is the Chinese character that is lit on Mount Daimonji. The other bonfires soon follow and are lit at five to ten minute intervals, with all of them being completed by 8:30 pm. Each bonfire lasts for around 30 minutes.

You can view the bonfires from many locations in Kyoto, but the best spot to view the festival is from the Nakagyo Ward, in the center of the city. Many people pay for the privilege of viewing the spectacular fires from the rooftop of a hotel in the area. A lot of people also like the banks of the Kamo River between Sanjo and Imadegawa Streets which is free and offers you excellent view of the initial fires.

Festival Information:

Location: Kyoto City
When: August 16
Time: Starts from 8:00 pm
Cost: FREE (Paid viewing is also available at hotels in the Nakagyo Ward of Kyoto)

Kyoto is easily accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka. You can reach Kyoto from Tokyo on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen with the fastest Nozomi train taking 140 minutes.

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