Daimonji Okuribi – Bonfire Festival in Kyoto

One of the great things about travelling is coming across the unexpected.  We discovered that the 16th of August is the date for a time-honoured tradition of the hilltop fiery rituals.

The rituals, called the Daimonji Gozan Okuribi, are part of the Buddhist tradition “to guide back to Nirvana the spirits of the dead who have visited their surviving families during Bon”.

Bon is the “All Souls Festival” from 8 to 16 August.

Six huge fires across the mountains light up the skies of Kyoto and are visible across the city.  We enjoyed the spectacular view from the lounge of the Westin Miyako Hotel.  From our viewpoint we saw three of the fires and a portion of the fourth off to our East.


Mt. Nyoigadake (East of Kyoto)




This bonfire is in the shape of the Chinese character “Dai” which means human body in Buddhism.  The fire measures a massive 264 feet across and 528 feet long.  Legend has it that the temple below the mountain was burned and the sacred image of Buddha flew up to the top of the mountain and shone for miles around.  This fire was directly to our East so all we could see was the glow from the massive burning fires.


Mt. Nishiyama  (North-East of Kyoto)


In 1294, Abbot Nichiern wrote the Chinese character “Myo” on the hillside of Mt. Nishiyama.  Later people continued the tradition as means to pray to Buddha.  The longest line of bonfires is 314 Feet and the shortest is only 99 feet.


Mt Myokenyama of Nishigamo (North West of Kyoto)


This bonfire is shaped like a ship which is considered a symbol of Buddhism.  The sails are 307 feet long.


Mt. Okitayama of Kinugasa (North West of Kyoto)


Hidari means “left” in Japanese.  It is said that this bonfire is a reflection of Daimonji in the east. It is 158 feet wide and 195 feet long.

We were very fortunate to be staying at the Westin Miyako Hotel and able to take advantage of the stunning view from the lounge and partake of one or two or three beer.

Note: The text provided was from a pamphlet handed out at the hotel.

2 Replies to “Daimonji Okuribi – Bonfire Festival in Kyoto”

  1. That is cool. The the Celtic day of the dead is called Samhain and how interesting that similarites are shared.

    Samhain is believed to have Celtic pagan origins and there is evidence it has been an important date since ancient times. The Mound of the Hostages, a Neolithic passage tomb at the Hill of Tara, is aligned with the Samhain sunrise.[1] It is mentioned in some of the earliest Irish literature and many important events in Irish mythology happen or begin on Samhain. It was the time when cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and when livestock were slaughtered for the winter. As at Bealtaine, special bonfires were lit. These were deemed to have protective and cleansing powers and there were rituals involving them.[2] Like Bealtaine, Samhain was seen as a liminal time, when the boundary between this world and the Otherworld could more easily be crossed. This meant the Aos Sí, the ‘spirits’ or ‘fairies’, could more easily come into our world. Most scholars see the Aos Sí as remnants of the pagan gods and nature spirits. At Samhain, it was believed that the Aos Sí needed to be propitiated to ensure that the people and their livestock survived the winter. Offerings of food and drink were left outside for them. The souls of the dead were also thought to revisit their homes seeking hospitality. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. Mumming and guising were part of the festival, and involved people going door-to-door in costume (or in disguise), often reciting verses in exchange for food. The costumes may have been a way of imitating, and disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. Divination rituals and games were also a big part of the festival and often involved nuts and apples. In the late 19th century, Sir John Rhys and Sir James Frazer suggested that it was the “Celtic New Year”, and this view has been repeated by some other scholars.[3]
    In the 9th century AD, Western Christianity shifted the date of All Saints’ Day to 1 November, while 2 November later became All Souls’ Day. Over time, Samhain and All Saints’/All Souls’ merged to create the modern Halloween.[4] Historians have used the name ‘Samhain’ to refer to Gaelic ‘Halloween’ customs up until the 19th century.[5]

    I took that from:

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