February 01, 2013

Sign of Spring, Grass Burning Ceremony

Every year , "Grass Burning Ceremony" in Mt. Wakakusa is held on the forth Saturday of January. This ceremony is the most spectacular and popular event in winter Nara. This year it was held on 26th January.

Since ancient times, fire has long been used for purification and cleansing both in Buddhism and Shintoism in Japan.

There are many spots to enjoy watching the event. I watched it at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa.
  300 firefighters are ready for "Grass Burning Ceremony" with their fire engines.

Before the ceremony, a dancing entertainment is  held on a temporarily built stage.

Elegant and exotic with Chinese fragrance.

Sento-kun is a holy boy with deer antlers, who was chosen as a mascot for the 1300th anniversary of the transfer of the capital to Heijo-kyo Nara in 2010.
 Now he is a super star.!

The sacred fire is carried to the foot of Mt. Wakakusa.  They make a bonfire. 

The Buddhist monks of Todai-ji Temple and Kofuku-ji Temple, and Shinto priests of Kasuga Grand Shrine perform a small ritual.

A number of fireworks are launched. They are so big!! 

300 firefighters set the mountain on fire.

Huge walls of fire and smoke appear and overwhelm us. Walls are swelling and swirling,
 being buffeted by gusts of wind.  What a dynamic scenery it is!!
The area of 33 hectares is burnt down in 30 minutes.

"Grass Burning Ceremony" dates back to 1760. But its origin is not clear. One theory says the mountain was set fire to solve the boundary dispute between temples and a shrine near the mountain. Other theory says someone started to set fire to console the ghost's spirit which haunted around a small tomb on the top of the mountain. Also it is said that the mountain was burnt to drive away wild boars. 

People in Nara see every phase of seasons in every festival or ceremony. "Grass Burning Ceremony" has long been seen as  a harbinger of spring.  The subtle hint of spring exists even in the icy air. When spring comes here, fresh sprouts will spring up out of the ashes.  To burn the mountain is also for rejuvenation of the mountain.

My related blog,  "Fire for Purification".(Click here.)

On 28th January, two days after the ceremony, Nara Park was covered with snow.
 Mt. Wakakusa is over there.


  1. Dear Keiko,

    great to see some new photos on your blog. This morning was the very first time (in my life) I noticed the Grass Burning Ceremony on Sarah's blog. And now - just a few hours later - I've gotten some new impressions about this impressive ceremony and festival.
    Such bombastic fires we don't have at Germany, but smaller fires we light at the 21th of February during the Biike fire festival in Northern Germany and during the Easter holidays - chasing the winter, welcoming the springtime.

  2. Thank you for sharing this amazing ceremony with us! Your pictures are awe-inspiring. It was a blessing that the snow held off until after the big day!

  3. Your pictures are so wonderful, and I learn so much culture from you. Please keep going with your blog!

  4. Niesamowita ceremonia u nas nie znana. Bardzo ciekawie to opisałaś i pokazałaś na świetnych zdjęciach. Pozdrawiam serdecznie.
    Amazing ceremony we do not know. Very interesting about this spectacle wrote and showed us the great pictures. Yours sincerely.

  5. Ceremonial with a beauty and sacredness. Yet the power of the burning brought me a sense of fear and a foreboding. Thank you for sharing your picture and culture with us. Very meaningful . . .

  6. Hello Keiko, Such a blaze to set the mountain afire! We are terrified that our own mountain will catch fire in the dryness of spring/summer. But, in areas where it has happened, the scar on the earth has rejuvenated with new growth. I'm amazed that this blaze in Nara can be controlled. It's been interesting to read of your city's tradition.

  7. I've just left a similar comment at Sarah's blog, too.

    While Nara enjoyed a magnificent and carefully controlled fire, my 故郷 (the Western Cape of South Africa) is currently fighting raging veldt fires that have destroyed so much of our stunning natural beauty. Unfortunately veldt fires are very common in South Africa in summer. :(

    I also thought of Australia, which has the same problem.

    I'm so glad this one was under full control of the firefighters!

    PS: I love the photo of the Chinese dancer as well as that second photo of the firefighters and the deer. That deer on the right of the photo seems to be asking, "Who are you? What are you doing?" :)

  8. Hi,Keiko
    How are you? I hope your shoulders are getting relaxing. I have never seen the Grass Burning Ceremony first hand. Seeing those photos, I see how powerful the ceremony is and I am surprised to know that 300 fighters are involved in the grass burning!! As Nara people, we are proud of that grand and traditional event.
    Be careful not have a cold!

  9. Keikoさん (・Ω・)ノ チワー!!
     それにしても、河川での花火大会でもかなりの消防員が配置されるというのに、山辺での花火、これほどの炎に包まれる山焼き(圧巻です!)で、消防員の責務がどれほどんのものかとつい想像してしまいます。 また、イベントの日程を決めるにあたってセンター入試のヒアリング試験日程に重なることで、大学関係者からの抗議を受けて第4週土曜日になったw(゚ー゚;)w とWikiで読み、奈良の大学関係者の姿が想像できて面白いです。おそらくYNUでは横浜港の花火大会の日程は変えられません。それほど、奈良県民皆様にとってこの祭事は何事にも代えがたい1日なのでしょうね___φ(゚_゚*)フムフム 

  10. The Mountain Burning Ceremony is spectacular and your presentation of it is fabulous. The contrast of the red color and heat of the burning fire of the night and the following white color and silent and tranquil snow-dusting of the morning, or the contrast of sacred ceremony and the joyous dancing, is fascinating. I haven't seen it in person since the last visit with my children long ago, maybe I’ll go with my grandchildren in several years soon.

    It’s nice to know that you are doing well walking in Nara Park so often despite the bitter cold though you might have a cold for a few days. (We missed you on Wednesday.)


  11. 本当にテレコですね。今年は風が強かったので、燃え方も凄かったみたいですね。フロントラインでは、迫力があったでしょうね。私は到着が遅かったので、カメラマンが一杯で、いい場所が確保できず残念でした。あくる朝の日経新聞に朱雀門と山焼きの写真が見事にでてました。来年もう一度朱雀門から挑戦してみようと思います。

  12. Oh my! That fire is huge. I learnt about this in Sarah's blog the other day and this festival is nothing short of a spectacle. Breath-taking pictures, seeing all of them, I felt like I was right there, standing at the foot of Mount Wakakusa and witnessing the festivities. It is hard to imagine Nara park in all that snow. When I was there, it was all green. Anyways, those deers are still the same - so adorable and cute.

    Stay warm, snowwhite :)

  13. You have so many traditions! I love some of your fire shots and the big green firework but it is the dancer with the sword that really impressed me. Such perfect composition.

  14. とても迫力のあるイベントですね。初めて見ました。 I learned a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  15. 真っ赤な炎の躍動と真っ白な雪の静寂の対比がとらえられていてすばらしいポストですね。私も昨年、一昨年と見に行きました。ま近に陣取って寒さに震えながら打ち上げられる花火に感嘆の声をあげ、伝統行事を守る関係各機関の努力と熱意も感じることができました。

    1. cosmosさん、

  16. 炎の色がすごいですね。バックグラウンドの歴史などもうどうでもよくなるような迫力。わたしは奈良のイベントって皆さんのポストで楽しませていただくことのほうが多いです。御祭り、山焼き、寒いのと人出がまず思われてしまって。奈良の因習も中心地に住んでみて実はあまり好きでなかったんです。だんだん魅力を感じできました。

  17. The massive fire and its lights are impressive.

  18. こんにちは♪

    1. 10メートル位はなれ所に縄がはってあり、そこから見ました。一般の見物客はそれ以上いけません。でも報道のカメラマンさんは、シルエットで見えている消防士さんと同じところまで行って撮影をしていました。あの火の勢いから考えてかなり熱かったのではとおもいます。でも私もそこまで行って写真を撮ってみたかったです!

  19. こんばんは。素晴らしい写真です。臨場感が有って最高です。私もここへ行く予定でしたが、用事が出来て行くのを断念しました。
     昨日、「フェルメールから北斎へ」 というタイトルで北斎の特集をテレビでやってました。ご覧になりましたか。私はたまたま浅草から北斎の墓まで歩いて来て、その事をブログに載せたばかりでしたので楽しく見ました。

  20. I love the idea of celebrating the coming of spring. What a spectacular event and photos. I think such great walls of fire might be feared in my part of the world where forests sometimes catch sparks in dry summer months that turn into huge flames … causing much damage to homes, animals and air quality. But yours is a controlled environment and the scenes look happy!

  21. What a wonderful celebration this must be.
    Thank you so much for sharing it here!

  22. Today we had Sunday lunch together with my parents. My mother made roast rabbit - prepared in a pressure cooker! :-)

    Have a great week, Uwe.

    1. Wow, It's great!! Here's to a pressure cooker!

  23. I can't tell you how much I have enjoyed going through several of your posts. The photos and your narration is tremendously serene and magical. I am planning to follow your blog.

  24. incredible traditional ceremony. i cannot help but fear the burning might go out of control. have a wonderful week.

  25. Fantastic photography ~ love the dear peaking at the camera ~ Wonderful tradition you have ~

    Carol of: (A Creative Harbor) ^_^ ~ artmusedog and Carol on blogger

  26. Thank you, Keiko, for visiting our blog and for you nice comment.

    I enjoyed this post very much having never heard of such a ceremony. I'd guess it could be rather dangerous - but then you have all the firemen there to help in case things get out of hand. Lots of good traditions - love the dancers and the deer and the mountain. It is all very beautiful!

  27. What an amazing ceremony, Keiko, wonderful tradition! I did so enjoy your photos/post for the day! The deer are so beautiful! Thank you as always for stopping by my blog and commenting, I do appreciated your visits! Hope you have a good week!!

  28. This is just incredible Keiko!! I absolutely love everything here! Your photos are incredible and I enjoyed hearing about the tradition and the history behind the burning.

    I live in Oklahoma and we have big burns too. But, ours is done to try to help control summer wildfires!

    Awesome share...thank you so very very much. I am your newest follower! I love love your blog!

    I hope you have great week!

    Jackie from Expression Needed! :-)

  29. What lovely shots of the mountain being rejuvenated! A lovely metaphor indeed.

  30. That looks quite spectacular. Your photos have brought the event to life for me. Thanks for sharing.

  31. this ceremony is spectacular--and it makes perfect sense. the fire and silhouettes make a fabulous photo. and the pair at the end of this post made me smile--they're adorable.:p

  32. Wonderful photos Keiko! I can imagine the heat emanating from the scene.It must be very exciting to view this in person.In Scotland heather is burnt in selected areas on hillsides to clear old plants and promote new growth.The burning obviously has the same beneficial effects on your wild grasses.Snow looks like a salve cooling the land after the scorching.
    The Goddess is alive and well in Nara Park!

    Thank you,have a lovely week Keiko,

  33. What a spectacular sight it must have been to see it with my own two eyes. It's a very interesting tradition as well. I've been to your country and I left my heart there. I'll come back again someday :)

    Inside Cambodia

  34. I am always amazed and delighted to read your posts. Much to learn, and the photographs are very beautiful. I love this event which you write about, it seems at once mystical, and yet so natural. It makes sense of the seasons. That lady is very beautiful too! Minerva ~

  35. Very interesting post and photos of this Ceremony!Thank you for sharing!Have a nice day!


  36. Hello, snowwhite.

     Your work is embraced in your gentleness.
     Sharing a moment of peace.
     It is a joy for all.

     Your heart warm message in the cold.
     I always give mind of thanks to you.

    Have a good weekend. ruma❃

  37. º° ✿彡
    Olá, amiga!
    É uma cerimônia bonita e impressionante.
    Bom fim de semana.
    Beijinhos do Brasil.
    ✿ °•.¸

  38. You have a special blog: human, welcoming and very interesting.
    Greetings from Greece.

    Yannis Politopoulos

  39. Yes, great pictures, very impressive, the penalty is a burned forest.

  40. ド迫力の炎の勢いが写真から感じられる臨場感に圧倒されました。奈良在住時に2度ほど見物に出かけたのを思い出しました。中国舞踊なんかも披露されるんですね。それと物議を醸し出したせんとくんっ!!!今人気者だったとは全く知りませんでした^^

    Thanks for sharing a series of stunning photos.

    1. せんとくん、今では県庁の公務員です。住民票ももっているのですよ。特に子どもたちの間では圧倒的な人気がずっと続いています。イベントには引っ張りだこです。

  41. Very interesting your pictures! I like it very much! The first is exceptional! Congratulations!
    Many greetings from Romania!

    1. Thanks a lot for visiting and leaving comment on my blog.
      Sorry, I can not find your blog.

  42. Wow, great photos! It looks like a very exciting ceremony, but I must admit, coming originally from Australia (which has terrible wildfires in Summer), the sight of all that fire is a bit scary. I love Sentokun dancing! There's something a bit strange about him, though... a bit kimochi warui! ^^

  43. Deer on the second shot look so adorable and curious ^^ And on the last shot, with snow, they look like an old couple.

  44. You know, I really love your blog. I don't live in Japan, but after seeing many many beautiful pictures from your blog, I really want to go to Nara, once in a lifetime. Waiting for your next update soon.
    I think I fall in love with Nara, already!


Thanks a lot for visiting my blog and leaving warm messages. I will visit your site soon. keiko