Kyoto during summer: Daimonji
Living in Kyoto during summer is a rewarding experience. From foreign students coming to their summer Japanese school semester, to those with a Working Holiday visa, interns and employees in search of experience and adventure, it is a great time to be in Kyoto and enjoy its tradition. Most of the events during this season take place in the evening, smartly to avoid the heat and humidity during the day.
Of all of these, one that doesn’t require entry fees, waiting in line or gathering in large crowds is the “Gozan Okuribi” fire ritual, best known as “Daimonji”.
Every year during mid August, 5 large Chinese characters are lit up on fire on 5 mountains around Kyoto City, offering a unique sight typical of summer in Kyoto.
The actual origin of this tradition is pretty much unknown to this day, but it certainly has relation to the Obon Festival carried out throughout summer in Japan. The dates of this festival varie slightly from region to region, but it roughly starts on August 13th, when it is believed that family ancestors come to visit their relatives. Many traditions, like the Bon Odori, are also carried out and end on August 16th, when the Gozan Okuribi (“five mountains ceremonial bonfire” in Japanese) is said to serve as guidance for the spirits of the deceased to find their way back to the spirit world.
The time of the fires being lit may vary slightly from year to year, but usually begins around 8pm in the evening. To bare the heat, people wear “yukata” (light cotton kimono) and enjoy food and drinks from the food stalls around temples and shrines, as well as typical games.
There are many places to see the “Daimonji” characters on fire, but one close to our Sakura House Kyoto machiya share houses and private houses is Funaoka-yama, a hill about a 15 minute walk north. We have covered it in the past, so make sure you check that post as well.
It is easy to climb to the top sightseeing spot, where you not only get a view of the “higashi daimonji” (the character close to The Golden Temple), but it is possible to also enjoy a great panoramic view of Kyoto City from above. For the hiking enthusiasts, it is possible to climb up to the mountains any other day and also get an impressive view of the city from different points of view.
Another common thing of this event is for family and friends to gather by the riverside of the Kamo-gawa River, where another of the characters can be easily seen. If staying at one of our share houses, make sure you ask more information to our staff and get together with your housemates/roommates to make this an unforgettable experience.