Mountain Bonfire in KYOTO (Gozan no Okuribi)
Exactly a year ago, we went back to my hometown of Kyoto just in time for the Gozan no Okuribi. Gozan no Okuribi, also known as the Bonfire festival, is a send-off fire meant to guide the spirits of our ancestors back to the spirit world after the Obon holiday.
Picking charcoal is actually a rare opportunity even for Japanese. I was lucky to be able to do this since my parents' house located at the foot of the mountain where the bonfire is held.
Okuribi-charcoal some myths associated with them. It is believed that hanging the charcoal and decorating them on the front door serves as a good luck charm to keep away evil spirits. Another superstition is that drinking powdered charcoal can cure illnesses and bring good health.
In the early morning after the bonfire, we climbed up the mountain to collect charcoal. We wrapped them in Japanese writing paper called Hanshi which is used for calligraphy. We then tied it with a special cord used in an ancient Japanese art form called Mizuhiki. After that, we hang the charcoal at our entrance.
The origin of the Gozan bonfire cannot be specifically traced back but it was widely introduced in literature and pictorial diagrams as a typical event for sending the spirits of the Bon festival in Kyoto during the early Edo period and It continues until today.
This year, it will be done at a much smaller scale to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection.
This tradition was suspended during World War II, but according to Kyoto City officials, this is the first time that it will be downsized in all the five mountains where the traditional activity is held.
My parents' house is at the foot of Matsugasaki Higashiyama, and personally, Okuribi has been a familiar and sacred event since I was a child.
Some Okuribi charcoals are still in our place, so feel free to let us know if you are interested to see them or have some.