An annual celebration known as the Wakakusa Yamayaki sees grass on Mount Wakakusayama in Nara set on fire. The mountain stands at the eastern edge of Nara Park, and when it is lit on fire, the entire city can see it. An explosion of fireworks is set off before the mountain is burned. The festival usually takes place on the fourth Saturday in January, although in the event of inclement weather, it is postponed or canceled.
The three temples—Todaiji, Kofukuji, and Kasuga—are involved in the festival's ceremonies. Although it has been practiced for hundreds of years, it is uncertain where the Wakakusa Yamayaki first appeared. According to one account, boundary disputes between Nara's great temples are when the mountainside started to burn, while another contends that wild boars were driven from the area by the fires.
After the festival's formal start at midday, a number of side activities are held at Wakakusayama's base. Among them is a big rice cracker tossing contest (sembei), which goes on from 12:30 to 15:30. The sembei are the enormous versions of the rice crackers that tourists can buy around Nara Park to feed the park's wild animals.
Around 17:00, a procession of participants who will set the mountain on fire leaves the Tobino neighborhood of Kasuga Taisha in direction of the mountain, stopping at the Mizuya Shrine along the way to light torches. By 17:30, the procession reaches the base of Wakakusayama, where several hundred onlookers have already gathered. Just beyond the public access barrier, partway up the hillside, a sizable bonfire is ignited.
A 15-minute fireworks display is staged at 18:15. The grass on the mountainside is then lit on fire using the heat from the bonfire, and the fire eventually covers the entire hillside. Depending on the state of the grass each year, the entire field typically burns in 30 to 60 minutes. When the grass is dry, the mountain as a whole burns rather quickly, whereas rainy conditions may only cause gradual, partial grass burning.
Wakakusayama is elevated above Nara, making both the fire and the fireworks visible across the entire city. In addition to the view from the mountain's foot, Nara Park and the surrounding area provide a number of additional excellent viewing spots. The view can also be appreciated from a distance, such as the historic Heijo Palace site.
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