Obon and Daimonji bonfire festival

It’s almost time for the annual Obon festival  in Japan. This sacred time on the Japanese calendar lasts several days during which the dearly departed return to earth to visit their families. August  16 2015 hosts the famous Daimonji (more formally ‘Gozan no okuribi’) bonfire light up in Kyoto town.

If you look carefully you can see the bonfires and officials milling around as they prepare to light the bonfires. This Kanji is Dai meaning large or great. By the by if you see this Kanji on the button of a Japanese toilet it means the larger flush!

The 5 burning Kanji and images that cover  the mountain ranges surrounding Kyoto is an absolute must-see if you are in Kyoto in summer  – along with the Gion Matsuri it is a stunning highlight and provides some light relief from the summer heat and humidity.

The flames of the Daimonji festival bonfires (or ‘okuribi -send off fires’), which commence at Mt Daimonji (Daimonji-yama) to the east of Kyoto town and which gradually move round to the western mountain range –  a new image lighting up as soon as the last one is starting to fade, as well as the light from many other lit lanterns all over the city and the waterways, help to purify the night and light the pathway for the spirits to make their journey back into the spiritual realm.

The fading light of Daimonji
Fune – the ferry – to aid the journey home

I’ve only experienced one Daimonji as it is just so damn hot in Kyoto in summer my pasty bod can’t handle it and do my best to avoid the city. Some locals have not experienced Daimonji for the same reason! However it is extremely popular with those who can stand the heat!!

So our first and possibly only Daimonji party was held a few years ago on the rooftop of our apartment building, one of the tallest in Kyoto – we had the most stunning vista and the place to ourselves until just prior to the bonfires being lit.

We picnicked, drank our homemade ume-shu, found a new Japanese friend Shuji -who lived in the apartment block and brought his guitar for a singalong  – he played and sang so beautifully -and were totally blown away by the vision of loveliness as people farewelled their loved ones again – until next year.  Such a touching festival.

Downtown in Higashi Gion local restaurants and businesses displayed their own gorgeous hand made lanterns, often painted with images of  Obon or Daimonji related scenes or vegetables and flowers of the season  – an artistic representation of the food offerings left outside houses or in alters for when spirited relations arrive to say hello. Take a look.

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