Kurama Fire Festival

Each year, on October 22nd, one of Japan’s most eccentric festivals is held in the Kyoto area: the Kuruma fire festival, or Kurama no hi matsuri.
Each year, more than 10 000 visitors come to admire the burning parade of some 250 torches. The ancient capital Heian, now known as Kyoto, undermined by clan wars, was hit in 940 by a massive earthquake.
In order to protect the capital from new disasters, the Emperor decided to transfer the Yuki Myojin (the imperial court’s protector) sanctuary to Kurama, North of Kyoto. The North was considered as the gate for demons and evil spirits.
Inhabitants lit fires all along the road in order to facilitate the passage of the deities. The festival is a reconstitution of the torch parade that accompanied the imperial procession.
At dusk, bonfires or Kagaribi are lit up in front of the houses where the inhabitants expose the family treasures for the occasion (armor, painted screens, crockery…)
Then, children and adults dressed up in festive outfits, parade through the main street carrying homemade heavy pinewood torches called taimatsu on their backs. The size and weight of the torches are proportional to the age of the person who carries it. The biggest ones are over 80kg and measure as much as 5 meters long!

Almost in a state of trance, the participants scream “saireya sairyo” (have a good festival). Miniature omikoshi (a portable Shinto shrine for the gods and spirits. It resembles a small building which is fixed to 4 poles. Omikoshi are usually very heavy and require many folks to carry it on their shoulders) leave from the unique onsen of the village for a parade that will end at the Yuki sanctuary, where the Shinto ceremony can start at last.
As the festival ends in a cloud of smoke and that the city people go back to the train station, the last festival-goers keep on feasting long after midnight. Don’t miss the last train!