Nara festivals and events are very impressive. They hold most events at night and they look spectacular because of the use of fire. Bring your camera and enjoy the spectacle. In this guide you will find the five biggest events held every year in Nara.
Yamayaki festival (Nara festivals in January)
According to the stories, this tradition arose because of a quarrel about the exact location of the border between the Kofuku-ji temple and the Todai-ji temple. Someone from the government acted as a mediator between the two temples in 1760. The border, the cause of the conflict, was set on fire. According to another story, the mountain was set on fire to scare off wild boar or kill harmful insects.
Yamayaki festival takes place Every fourth Saturday in January on Mount Wakakusayama also called Mount Mikasayama. First, a torch is lit with sacred fire at Kasuga Taisha shrine. The torch is carried to a small shrine at the base of the mountain by a parade of Buddhist monks. Then members of the Kofuku-ji, Todai-ji and Kasuga Taisha temples set the mountain grass on fire. Fireworks are set off while the grass continues burning for thirty more minutes. Make sure to come early if you want a good spot.
Mantoro festival (Nara festivals in February en Augustus)
Three times a year more than 3000 lanterns are lit in the Kasuga Tasidha Shrine area. The festival dates are on 3 February (Setsubun Mantoro) between 18:00 – 20:30 and on 14-15 August (Chugen Mantoro) between 19:00 – 21:30. This tradition has existed for 800 years and most lanterns are donations from the residents of Nara except for some lanterns dedicated to samurai warriors. The lanterns in the garden are decorated with strips of Japanese paper with wishes of people written on it, these are ignited by the participants.
The winter festival on February 3 marks the transition from winter to spring. During the early morning, beans, good luck charms and a vow-offering picture of a horse are sold, they are needed to get a long life. During the day there are dancers in the area around the temple wearing traditional kimonos.
Omizutori festival (Nara festivals in March)
Priests of the Todai-ji temple confess their sins to the eleven faced Kannon in the Nigatsu-do Hal. They also pray fourteen consecutive days for world peace and a rich harvest. This ritual called Shuni-e and has been happening since 752. During the festival the next part called Otaimatsu is really worth seeing. Priests run through the corridors swinging with burning torches. They say when you get the sparks on you, it will protect you from evil.
The highlight of the festival is in the morning of 13 March. Water that rises only at the front of the building is used on this day and offered to the Buddhist gods. The water would have the strength to cure all diseases. The next day the water gets poured into a pot and they add water from another pot that has been refilled for 1200 years.
Takigi O-Noh festival (Nara festivals in May)
Takigi O-Noh festival in May is a traditional Japanese musical drama, performed on an outdoor stage on the grass of the Kofukuji temple. The drama performed in the evening is illuminated by fire pits. Actors wear wooden lacquered masks and are dressed up in beautiful costumes. The piece gets accompanied by flutes and drums. Between the Noh performances, there are also comic dramas which are in great contrast with Noh, which consist of song and dance.
If you want to get a good spot, come early or reserve a seat for 3500 Yen for a day pass or 5000 Yen for a two-day pass. For more information about tickets please contact the tourist information in Nara. Phone number: 0742-27-2223
Shika no Tsunokiri festival (Nara festivals in October)
Shika no Tsunokiri festival marks the beginning of the autumn season and is held in early October. The festival has existed for about 300 years and was created to protect the inhabitants of Nara against the antlers of the deer. At a permanent place in Nara park, about four deer are simultaneously driven together and caught with a rope. They get worked against the ground and their antlers are removed. This has ensured that deer and man can live side by side in Nara without problems or injuries.
The photo above is taken one month after the festival, apparently some deer know how to avoid the festival.
For more information about festivals or tickets you can always contact the tourist office in Nara.
Adres: 1082 Sanjo-honmachi, Nara, 奈良市三条本町1082 (map)