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Published: January 28th 2019
from the park to the top of the hill
Amidst snow flurries we rode to the station. As we travelled the countryside had delicate white lace edges from further flurries. Undeterred we continued to find maps and accommodation in Nara. By 2pm we set out and it was a bright sunny afternoon at 4 degrees Celsius.
We wandered the parks near Todaiji Temple filled with sight seers, festival tents with food and many many deer wanting food which, being Japan, was being sold by special deer food sellers. I found my first plum blossom mid way up the hill.
The sun filtered down on us as we enjoyed being outside, breathing fresh air and seeing 'much beautiful nature'. Many people were out and about finding their spot for the festival.
I was delighted when we got to the top of Wakakusa Hill to hear taiko drumming and Japanese flute playing - the first stage of the festival at this end of the park.
Even further to have ENGLISH festival interpreters and information for us!!!
Why burn the top of a hill proximate to the main part of the city and close to beautiful old wooden shrines and temples? Well, on top of the hill are
Jacinta hefts the torches the firefighters will carry later
some remnant tombs of important people. The ceremony is to respect those people AND to wish them peace AND to spread that peace around the world. Apparently firing the hill was a way to pay respect. It got a little dangerous with many small respect activities so the powers that be decided around 1900 to centralise the respect activities to one major public ritual - hence the ceremony we became a part of. So peace to all my readers their friends and families too.
As the sun set the drumming stopped and platoons of local volunteer fire fighters paraded past us and lined up in local groups to be thanked by the authoriites for all their hard work and for their practical skills in protecting us and the city during the festival. We joined in at the end.
Then we heard conch shell sounds approaching as Buddhist monks and Shinto priests (who had been passing fire torches from further down the hill from shrine to temple to get to us) entered the festival ground with fire torches. Together they had a dual religious fire ceremony under paper lanterns timed to allow the sunset to complete and darkness to
musical accompaniment at start and finish of ceremony
arrive. Then they moved further up the hill to a 'tendo' or pre-prepared bonfire in a big wooden box. They lit the tendo and when it was going spectacularly they passed fire torches on to about 100 firefighters who lined the perimeter of the fenced off area (so as not to burn any people or deer) delineating the burn site at the very top of the hill.
Then out came the most colourful and vibrant fireworks I have ever seen and filled the sky above the mountain. My bones were cold but I was bedazzled by they spectacle of fireworks. Some even dropped on the 'to be burnt zone' and commenced the fire.
Many fireworks later after a final crescendo of cascading golden plumes the firefighters each torched the edge of the burn site.
After the noise of the fireworks it was a gentle crackle - as quiet as lighting a fire in your own grate. Then it turned into a real bushfire noise crackling along the bottom perimeter of the burn site which may have been about half a kilometre long. It was incredible.
I had the fear an Australian has when bushfires are around
deer hoping for food from tourists
and very dangerous, probably palpitating my heart and keeping me warm; at the same time 300 skilled firefighters were visible managing the fire which was an elite Japanese ritual controlled burn so my mind told me not to be scared; and the little pyromaniac in me was getting ready to jump out and be excited. Then the taiko drumming recommenced to add drama to the ceremony. My brain recognised the rhythm and gave up its fear conundrum; I relaxed and wished all the world peace with all the other festival goers!
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