Gozan Okuribi Ritual Fires｜五山送り火
As the culmination of many varying Obon festivities, the Gozan Okuribi bonfires are lit on five mountainsides around Kyoto as part of arguably the most famous Obon festival in the country. It is believed that on August 16th the dead who have come back to visit their living relatives for the Obon period will depart once again for the spiritual world. Different areas and groups in Japan have different customs for giving them a good send off, and Kyoto’s ritual bonfires are one of those!
The okuribi (send-off fires) consist of the kanji character for “big” on two mountains, kanji that form “wondrous dharma” on two others, and two bonfires made into shapes: visible as a torii gate and a boat. In order to be seen from the city, the size of the bonfires is enormous. The most well-known “big” character is made up of three “strokes” of bonfire 160, 120, and 80 meters long. Each fire is lit one after the other and burns for thirty minutes before being extinguished. By 8:30 pm all of the fires are lit and people from around Kyoto gather in the streets, along the Kamogawa river, and in tall buildings or hotels to catch a glimpse of as many as they can.
Because of this ritual’s long and mysterious history, there are actually many interesting superstitions concerning the Gozan Okuribi. For example, it’s said that by drinking sake or water that has the burning bonfires reflected on its surface you will be protected from ailments such as paralysis.
Many people also go to temples associated with each fire to write gomagi, prayers upon cedar strips that will then be burned with the bonfires and hopefully reach heaven with the rising smoke.
For all of those in Kyoto this season, we hope you can enjoy the sight of the send-off fires burning in the night. The lighting schedule for the fires is as follows:
■ Daimonji (Nyoigatake, Daimonji Mountain) | 大文字
Time of Lighting: 8:00 pm
Gomagi: 8/15 – 8/16, Ginkaku-ji
- Kamogawa River (from Marutamachi to Misonobashi Bridge)
- Dōshisha University's Kanbaikan Building
■ Myo-Hō (Mount Mandōrō and Mount Daikokuten) | 妙法
Time of Lighting: 8:05 pm
- Kitayama Street near Matsugasaki Station
- North of Takanobashi Bridge
- Takaragaike Driving School
■ Funa-gata (Mount Funa Nishigamo) | 船形
Time of Lighting: 8:10 pm
Gomagi: 8/4 – 8/16, Saihō-ji
- Misonobashi Bridge
■ Hidari Daimonji (Mount Okita) | 左大文字
Time of Lighting: 8:15 pm
Gomagi: 8/15 – 8/16, Kinkaku-ji
- Nishiōji Street
■ Torii-gata (Mount Mandara) | 鳥居形
Time of Lighting: 8:20 pm
Gomagi: 8/13 – 8/16, Adashino Nenbutsu-ji
- Matsuobashi Bridge
- Hirosawa no Ike Pond
Things to See/Do