Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival

On the fourth Saturday in January, the incredible Wakakusa Yamayaki event takes place in Nara, Japan. Disputing temples settle a 260-year-old territorial dispute by setting an entire mountainside ablaze.

Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival History

It’s believed that in 1760 there was a land dispute between Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji temples in Nara. When an agreement could not be reached, the land was set on fire, and has been every fourth Saturday in January since.

名古屋太郎, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another, probably more believable, theory of the festival’s origins suggest that it was an extermination of sorts. It’s believed the dried grass was set on fire to drive out wild boar and other unwanted pests.

Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival

Yamayaki translates as mountain burning, or burning mountain. The festival is held annually on Mount Wakakusa and its ceremonies are performed by members of both the Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji temples.

名古屋太郎, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the day there is a senbei, or rice cracker, throwing contest at the bottom of Wakakusayama. At dusk, a group of torch bearers arrive and light a bonfire. Just before the hillside is set on fire, there is a short fireworks display.

Fireworks over Nara, Japan

Then, members from the two temples set the mountainside on fire. The whole scene lasts about 30 minutes, and the flames and fireworks can be seen from just about anywhere in the city, including Nara Park.

When to See the Yamayaki Festival

The festival is held every January on the fourth Saturday. It cancels due to heavy rains and when the grass is too wet to burn.

Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival Calendar

2022January 22
2023January 28
2024January 27
2025January 25
2026 January 24