Daimonji Yaki, also commonly known as Daimonji Gozan Okuribi, is a festival that forms part of the Obon celebrations in Kyoto. Enormous bonfires are set alight on five mountains in Kyoto in the shape of Chinese characters and other symbols to help guide our ancestors back to the spiritual world after Obon. It is believed that our ancestors return to this world during Obon to visit their descendants. Daimonji Yaki is considered one of Japan’s most impressive spectacles and is a highlight of summer in Kyoto.
Daimonji Yaki is the culmination of the Obon festival and is performed on August 16 to bid farewell to the souls of our ancestors. It signifies the moment when the spirits leave our world for the spiritual world. The festival’s official name is Daimonji Gozan Okuribi, where gozan means five mountains, and okuribi means send-off fire in Japanese. The largest fire is always burned on Mount Daimonji, located just above the famous Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto. The fires start at 8 pm, with one of the best spots to watch them being from the astonishing banks of the Kamo River.
The festival’s origins are believed to lie in the ancient roots of Obon, with specific families having the hereditary duty of organizing the logistics of the bonfires. The festival is held every year on August 16.
The festival’s highlight is the largest and most famous bonfire on Mount Daimonji, which is the first to be lit from 8:00 pm. The character dai (大), which means large or great, is the Chinese character lit on Mount Daimonji. The other bonfires soon follow and are lit at five to ten-minute intervals, with all of them being completed by 8:30 pm. Each bonfire lasts for around 30 minutes.
You can view the bonfires from many locations in Kyoto, but the best spot to view the festival is from the Nakagyo Ward, in the center of the city. Many people pay for the privilege of viewing the spectacular fires from the rooftop of a hotel in the area. Many people also like the banks of the Kamo River between Sanjo and Imadegawa Streets which is free and offers you an excellent view of the initial fires.
Location: Kyoto City
When: August 16
Time: Starts from 8:00 pm
Cost: FREE (Paid viewing is also available at hotels in the Nakagyo Ward of Kyoto)
Kyoto is easily accessible from both Tokyo and Osaka. You can reach Kyoto from Tokyo on the JR Tokaido Shinkansen with the fastest Nozomi train taking 140 minutes.
The first fire is set at 8 pm on Daimonji—the main mountain of the festival—in the Higashiyama district. The four other fires are placed on their respective mountains in counterclockwise order every 5 minutes. The fires each burn for about 40 minutes. 8:30 pm marks the sweet spot when they are all visible at once.
The lighting schedule for the fires is as follows:
■ Daimonji (Nyoigatake, Daimonji Mountain) | 大文字
Time of Lighting: 20:00
Gomagi: August 15th–16th, Ginkaku-ji
Viewing Spots: – Kamogawa River (from Marutamachi to Misonobashi Bridge) ;- Dōshisha University’s Kanbaikan Building
■ Myo-Hō (Mount Mandōrō and Mount Daikokuten) | 妙法
Time of Lighting: 20:05
Viewing Spots: – Kitayama Street near Matsugasaki Station;- North of Takanobashi Bridge;- Takaragaike Driving School
■ Funagata (Mount Funa Nishigamo) | 船形
Time of Lighting: 20:10
Gomagi: August 4th–16th, Saihō-ji
Viewing Spots: – Misonobashi Bridge
■ Hidari Daimonji (Mount Okita) | 左大文字
Time of Lighting: 20:15
Gomagi: August 15th–16th, Kinkaku-ji
Viewing spots: – Nishiōji Street
■ Toriigata (Mount Mandara) | 鳥居形
Time of Lighting: 20:20
Gomagi: August 13th–16th, Adashino Nenbutsu-ji
Viewing Spots: – Matsuobashi Bridge; – Hirosawa no Ike Pond