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Nara Travel Guide

Fire Festivals and Light-Ups in Nara

To light up doesn't mean to have a cigarette in Japan. In fact, most light-ups are at temples and shrines where, unlike most public spaces in Japan, smoking is banned. Here are the more dramatic illuminations on the Nara festival calendar.

January

Wakakusa-yama Yaki (Grass Burning Festival). On the night before the second Monday in January, 15 priests set Wakakusa-yama's dry grass afire while fireworks illuminate Kofuku-ji's Five-Story Pagoda in one of Japan's most photographed rituals. This rite is believed to commemorate the resolution of a boundary dispute between the monks and priests of Todai-ji and Kofuku-ji. The fireworks start at 5:50 and the grass fire is lighted at 6.

February

Mantoro (Lantern Festival). On February 3 the 2,000 stone and 1,000 bronze lanterns at Kasuga Taisha are lighted to mark the traditional end of winter called setsubun. It takes place between 6 pm and 8:30 pm.

March

Shuni-e Omizutori (Water Drawing Festival). From March 1 to 14 priests circle the upper gallery of the Ni-gatsu-do (Second Month Hall) wielding 21-foot-long taimatsu (bamboo torches) weighing more than 160 pounds, while sparks fall on those below. Catching the embers burns out sins and wards off evil. This festival is more than 1,200 years old, a rite of repentance to the Eleven-Headed Kannon, an incarnation of the Goddess of Mercy. These evening events happen March 1 to 11 and 13, 7 to 7:20; March 12, 7:30 to 8:15; March 14, for five minutes from 6:30 to 6:35.

July–October

Light-up Promenade. Sights including Yakushi-ji, Kofuku-ji, and Todai-ji are illuminated at night in July, August, September 7 to 10, and October 6 to 10.

August

Toka-e. From August 1 to 15 Nara Koen is aglow with more than 7,000 candles from 7 to 9:45 pm.

Chugen Mantoro (Mid-year Lantern Festival). For more than 800 years the thousands of lanterns at Kasuga Taisha have been lighted to guide ancestors back to Earth on their annual pilgrimage, in Obon on August 14 to 15 from 7 to 9:30 pm.

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