Saturday, October 3, 2015

Carpe Diem #832 Wakakusa Yamayaki (Burning down Mount Wakakusa)

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

I hope you did like our CD Special episode, the first by Michael Dylan Welch, and that it has inspired you to write/compose wonderful haiku. I have read already a few submissions and they were awesome.
In this festive month of CDHK in which we celebrate our third anniversary we will visit all Japanese Festivals through out the whole country. Japan has a wonderful history of celebrations and festivals and there over 100.000 festivals all around Japan. Every town, every little village, every prefecture has it's own festivals and celebrations. A lot of those celebrations have to do with fire and today we are visiting a festival in Nara (former capital of Japan, back in the 8th century).

Japan's first permanent capital was established in the year 710 at Heijo, the city now known as Nara. As the influence and political ambitions of the city's powerful Buddhist monasteries grew to become a serious threat to the government, the capital was moved to Nagaoka in 784.
Nara is located less than one hour from Kyoto and Osaka. Due to its past as the first permanent capital, it remains full of historic treasures, including some of Japan's oldest and largest temples. 

Credits: Todaiji Temple Nara

The festival of today starts at Todaiji Temple and is called  
Wakakusa Yamayaki  (Burning down Mount Wakakusa). Let me tell you a little bit more about this festival.
The Wakakusa Yamayaki is a late January festival that burns down Mount Wakakusa in Nara. There's a single word for burning down a mountain in Japan: yamayaki.

The Wakakusa Yamayaki began in a dispute over territory between Kofukuji and Todaiji temple. Someone ended up burning down Mount Wakakusa as part of the dispute.

Today the Wakakusa Yamayaki is a little less passionate. A group of priests from Todaiji temple, Kofukuji temple and Kasuga shrine are given the honor of burning down the mountain. Over time, symbolic ritual has been attached to the burning.

Yamayaki is practiced all over Japan. In other regions the story is often that the mountain was traditionally burned to ward off insects, bears or wild boars. Mountains that are the target of yamayaki grow a green grass in summer. This is arguably aesthetically pleasing. Trees are nice too. Directly beside the burn area is the Kasugayama Primeval Forest, a sacred forest that has been strictly off limits to the public for more than 1000 years.

Fire is a common theme of Japanese festivals. Feats of bravery with fire are common. Japanese history is filled with devastating fires. Mastery of large or dangerous fires is something that seems to intrinsically appeal to people in Japan. The festival begins around noon. Things start off slowly. Festivities include a senbei (a kind of baked or grilled Japanese rice crackers) throwing competition.

Credits: Priests preparing Wakakusa Yamayaki

Around 17:30 a large bonfire is lit at the base of Mount Wakakusa. Priests gather around the bonfire for a while. At 18:00 there's a fireworks show. Afterwards, the priests use the bonfire to light torches. They proceed a short distance up the mountain in a procession and light the grass on fire. 

burning the mountain
smoke swirls from the green grass
pleasing the gods

© Chèvrefeuille

Here is a short video (15 minutes) about this year's Wakakusa Yamayaki at Nara.

I like this festival. I never had heard from this festival, but it sounds and looks great. I hope it will inspire you to write an all new haiku, tanka or other Japanese poetry form.

Have fun!

(Sources: Japan Talk and Japan Guide)

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until October 6th at noon (CET). I will try to publish our next episode, Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival, later on.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting festival - with that renewal theme, and the pure fun and togetherness of it all. The 'fire' concept is one to ponder on. Maybe it started with the volcanoes. Your haiku is everything I really like in a haiku. Sharp, crystal clear, vivid imagery with false pretense or trickery.