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Set in the Kurama mountains north of Kyoto, in the small Kurama mountain village, occurs an exciting, dangerous and cheeky (pun intended) fire festival once a year. The Kurama Hi(fire)matsuri is a big festival that begins around 6pm and lasts until the early hours of the next morning, although it’s not recommended to stay the entire thing.
The festival is a local festival that honours the Yuki shrine, and its spirits. Huge flaming torches or various sizes are paraded around the village until they end up at one of two shrines. There are also bonfires dotted around the village. As you can imagine, due to the sheer heat of all these torches as well as dropping embers and fires, it’s one of the most dangerous and high energy festivals in Kyoto, and well worth going to see. Although get there early as it gets VERY crowded, and expect to wait 45 mins to get onto the trains or buses that head back to Kyoto. They finish around 11pm, and if you miss them, you’ll be stranded in the mountain village! (You can still walk back into town in a few hours.)
The festival itself is a sort of rite of passage for the young men of the village (until recently, girls are allowed to participate due to the shrinking population). When the sun goes down, most of the households of the village will light fire beacons in front of their houses and often display family heirlooms - usually paintings or Samurai armour.
Children start the parade carrying small flaming torches, followed by the teenagers of the village, and then finally the main events of the men of the village carrying often very large torches weighing up to 80-100kgs!
The garments are traditional and rather minimalistic... there's a lot of arse cheek on display! The men wear loincloths, rope skirts and headbands, and the children and teenagers wear more of a kimono-style garment.
Our advice is to get there early! Find a good spot (although the police will ask you to keep moving around the circuit). And try to leave around 8/9pm.
►The festival is free.