A Fiery Celebration in Kyoto – WSJ Article

Greetings from Kyoto

This summer I covered the Daimonji Gozan Okuribi with Kyoto photographer, Kosuke Okuda. The Wall Street Journal article is published here. Yay!!

Gozan-no-Okuribi means ‘five mountain send-off fire’ and is a late summer Kyoto custom in which huge Chinese character and pictogram shaped bonfires are burned on five mountainsides surrounding the ancient capital. Gozan Okuribi is the culmination of the Bon Festival in Kyoto. While Bon is celebrated throughout the country, only in Kyoto does it involve numerous mountainside bonfires. During Bon, families welcome back the spirits of their deceased ancestors for three days festival, reunion, happiness, cleaning of family tombs and Buddhist ceremony. (In Japan, even the dead are on a set schedule.) In Kyoto, on August 16, the last day of the Bon Festival, starting at 8 pm, the huge bonfires are lit to send-off the ancestral spirits back to the afterlife.

The origins of the Gozan Okuribi are unclear. Research suggests that the custom may date back to the founding of Kyoto, in the 8th century. A century or so ago, there were many more characters and pictograms, but today, only the five remain.

This year, Kyoto photographer Kosuke Okuda and I got to cover the daylong preparations and burning of the largest of the characters — dai.

I have written a few things about Daimonji Gozan Okuribi before.
Wagashi: Daimonji Okuribi Senbei and Kompeito
Wagashi: Kyoto Daimonji Namagashi
Wagashi: Shiruko (Red Azuki Bean ‘Soup’)
Wagashi: Daimonji and Chofu

Kyoto Daimonji Viewing Party at Hirosawa Pond
Hiking in Kyoto: Daimonji Yama (Mt. Daimonji)

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