Daimonji-yaki

December 17, 2013

by Miho Hosotani, Keita Kitagawa, & Takuma Osawa

What is Daimonji-yaki?

Daimonji-yaki is original Japanese culture, and one of the most famous events in Kyoto. In this event, kanji characters are marked on the mountain side and illuminated by fire. This ceremony is held during Obon, on the 16th of August. Obon is one of the Japanese national holidays, and according to Buddhist legend, is when the souls of dead people return and we receive them.

Daimonji-yaki is set on the sides of five mountains in Kyoto, and the burning proceeds in order from East to West: Daimonji → Myoho → Funagata → Sadaimonji → Torii . They continue to burn for about one hour.

1. Daimonji

Daimonji is a kind of opening ceremony to kick off Daimonji-yaki, and its origins date back between 300 years and 500 years.

It is also called Joseigata, which in English means female style, because of the slender and beautiful character used.

Light up starts from 20:00.

 

 

 

2. Myoho

Myoho, the second one, comes from Japanese religious belief. People dance a bon-odori (Japanese traditional dance at the top of the mountain, and the character is lit 10 minutes after Daimonji, at 20:10.

 

 

3. Funagata

Preparation for Funagata, the third one, starts from early morning on the 16th. At night, accompanied by the sound of a temple bell, people light it 5minutes after Myoho at 20:15. Once the ceremony is finished, the chief priest and other workers talk about it inside the temple.

 

 

 

4. Sadaimonji

The fourth one, Sadaimonji has a shorter history than Daimonji, Myoho and Funagata. It is called Otokogata, which in English means male style, because it is thicker and stronger than Daimonji. If we compare it with Daimonji, Funagata, and Myoho, Sadaimonji it is newer, but it still has more than 300 years of history. The light up time is the same as Funagata, from 20:15.

 

 

 

5. Torii

Preparation for the last one, Torii, starts from 20.00 on the 16th. It is said to be the grandest and most beautiful of all five. Originally, Torii is the gate that marks the territory of the gods. It is the fastest burning of the five, so it is called the ‘Fire runner’. People call these five stages of the burning ceremony Gozan Okuribi.

Daimonji-yaki is well known to foreigners, so Kyoto is frequented by tourists every summer looking to view it. Originally, ”Daimonji-yaki” took place as a memorial service for ancestors during the Bon Festival. The Bon Festival is a ceremony to welcome spirits, a bit like Halloween. Daimonji-yaki is made using the Chinese character 大, which is composed of three lines. The first horizontal line measures 80 meters; the second, 160 meters from the top down to the left; and the last 120 meters from the horizontal bar down to the right. As it is so large, we can see it clearly even from far away on a summer’s night. The local people call it Daimonji-San, and through this, we can see how much it is loved by local people. During World War Ⅱ it was cancelled, but thanks to the strong mind of Japanese people and their actions, an understanding was reached to revive it and continue the beauty of its form to this day. From now on as well, we hope to see every year this beautiful flame as part of Japanese traditional culture.

The interesting modern history of Daimonji-yaki

Due to fears of making Kyoto an easy target for Allied bomber planes during the Second World War, Daimonji-yaki was cancelled in 1943. However, with the Japanese spirit of ganbari, the ceremony, was continued by using local school kids as a substitute for the flaming markers. They climbed the mountain to make a giant white 大 wearing white T-shirts. This was repeated the following year in 1944; however this was to be the last Daimonji ceremony until its official revival in the year 1946, following the end of the Pacific war.

For several years leading up to 2011 pine trees from Rikuzentakata in Iwate prefecture had been imported and used in the okuribi ceremony. However, due to fears of radioactive contamination stemming from the 2011 Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster the organizers of the event put a ban on the use of Iwate pines on the 6th of August. The decision to cancel was met with severe protest and the organizers of the event were flooded with phone calls demanding the decision be overturned. Caving to this pressure, the organizers of the 2011 event decided that they would use the imported pines until a test definitively proved the presence of the radioactive material cesium, which solidified the organizers’ resolve to ban the use of Iwate pines.

Access to Daimonji

There are two ways to access the best viewpoints for Daimonjiyaki:

1. Kyoto City Bus: From Kyoto Station Bus Terminal catch bus number 17, and get off at the “Demachiyanagi” stop. It takes about 20 minutes, depending on the traffic and costs 220 yen.

2. JR Kyoto: From Kyoto JR Station, take the Nara line, train to Tofukuji Station and change to the Keihan line, take the north bound train and get off at Demachiyanagi terminal. It takes about 30 minutes, and costs about 480yen.

From our experience, we recommend you to take the train, because during this season a lot of tourists come to Kyoto, from inside Japan, as well as from all over the world. Last year, we went to Daimonji-yaki ceremony separately and planned to meet there, but it was impossible and we couldn’t find each other until the ceremony had finished and most people had disappeared. We hope you like it and enjoy your summer vacation in Kyoto!

Thank you.

References:

Asahi Shinbun, 2011, Cesium detected in Daimonji-Yaki firewood – usage of Iwate pines to be discontinued, accessed 5th December 2013, <http://www.asahi.com/special/10005/OSK201108120098.html>

The Second Kyotoism Blog, Daimonji: gozan okuribi sono futatsu, 2011, accessed 5th December 2013 <http://2ndkyotoism.blog101.fc2.com/blog-entry-319.html>

Kioto-shi Kankou Kyoukai, accessed 5th December 2013 < http://www.kyokanko.or.jp/okuribi/>

A Visit to Hiei

by Airi Kinoshita

About 1200 years ago, when Emperor Kammu established Heian-kyō (the former name of Kyoto city) as the capital of Japan, Mt.Hiei in the northeast of the city was regarded as the only defect in the city‘s wealth of natural advantages. No one would come near to the wild mountain as it was rumored that demons and evil spirits were hanging out there, so Emperor Kammu ordered the building of Enryakuji temple to appease or expel these demons and strengthen Kyoto’s defenses. Northeast is believed to be an unlucky direction in the Shinto religion, which accounts for why people often built temples or shrines in the northeast to create barriers against anything evil.

Now, Mt.Hiei is no longer the horrible place that troubled Emperor Kammu so much, rather, it has become a popular tourist spot. Many hotels and restaurants have been built in neighboring areas, and there is a cable car and a ropeway service also available. You will find many options open to you on your visit, but I would like to introduce two that I think are quite special.

The Garden Museum


The first spot is The Garden Museum on Hiei. The museum grounds are designed using the artworks of French and Dutch impressionists like Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh for inspiration. Visitors will be welcomed by about 100,000 flowers of 1400 varieties including roses, lilacs, water lilies, daffodils and so on. One of the most popular gardens is the Water Lilies Garden, which was inspired by the artwork of Monet. Monet admired Japanese sense of beauty so much that he made a great Japanese style garden, including a lake with floating water lilies, around his residence, and drew several pictures of it. I am sure you will understand why this type of garden fascinated Monet so much when you visit here. Afterwards, when you got tired of walking, you can always stop in at Café de Paris and enjoy a drink from their selection of herb teas. Moreover, Maison de Fleur, a souvenir shop in the museum, not only sells French general goods or aroma oils but also provides workshops on how to make original herb soaps.

The Cafe de Paris


The second spot I feel is most worthy is Hiei-zan Enryakuji. I have already introduced the origins of the temple, but now it has become a far more visitor-friendly place. The temple welcomes visitors who lead busy lives and are in need of some peace and quiet, and allows them to experience zazen or shakyo. Zazen is a style of meditation done in a cross-legged position, and shakyo is the transcribing of sutras. Both require you to put all other thoughts out of your mind and concentrate on self-identification. In the clean, fresh air and nature of Mt.Hiei, you will be able to forget all that troubles you in daily life and feel as if you are reborn.

Enryakuji Temple

Hiei autumn colours

One Day in Arashiyama

A Midsummer Walk in the Serene

 Mountains of Northern Kyoto

by Yuka Yamazaki

Look at around you. What do you see? Through the window might be towering skyscrapers and noisy roads congested with traffic. Your coworkers might be clearing those last stacks of files and shutting down their computers as they get ready to vacate the office, or perhaps a group of screaming, hyperactive kids are playing among a jungle of toys strewn across your living room floor.

Had enough? I know just what you need: a peaceful retreat where you can relax, breathe the fresh air and feel at ease in your mind.

Arashiyama in Kyoto, Japan, is a very popular tourist destination, and therefore might not seem to be a place where one can easily relax and escape the hectic urban lifestyle, but I will show you that there is another way to enjoy this beautiful scenic location.

Now, let us begin our day-long midsummer walk in Arashiyama.

We disembark at Hankyu Arashiyama Station and make our way to Togetsu-kyo Bridge, about 10 minutes away. Togetsu-kyo in Japanese means ‘Moon Crossing Bridge’, and was named such by the Emperor Kameyama in the 13th century. It is a famous sightseeing spot in Kyoto, so while the surrounding landscape might be lovely, the sight of so many tourists and vendors on and around the bridge makes you feel queasy. It’s time to take a different route. So, let’s cross the Togetsu-kyo bridge.

Let us follow the river. As you progress farther down the winding path, there are fewer and fewer people around. What a relief! Sit by the bank and enjoy the lush greenery reflected in the river. Perhaps you will catch sight of a crane taking flight.

Continue down the path and eventually you will come across some small stone stairs leading up to Kameyama Mountain. There are some great views from up here. Take a deep breath and savor the scent of fresh, new leaves.

Walk further up the mountain…
Keep going…

…Stop! You feel the presence of someone, something…

 

You realize that they are welcoming you with spotlights, dancing on the stony path at your feet.

By the time the light show has ended, you have reached the summit of the mountain and another performance awaits you: this time it is the artistic vocals of the hototogisu, the Japanese cuckoo. Time to take a seat on one of the benches. Peer up at the vast expanse of blue sky, down at the boats silently floating along the Hozugawa River from which you have come, and chill to the sweet background music.

Wait a minute! You have noticed something. Is that a little village you see, on the other side of the river?  Let’s check it out. Now this feels more like an adventure.

Let’s go back down the mountain. Can you remember the way you came?

Let’s hope so! Don’t forget to say farewell to the company you have encountered on your stroll.

Head back towards the Togetsu-kyo bridge and cross it. There will be another smaller bridge, named Togetsu-kyo ko-bashi, and next to it a small lane next to that bridge which runs parallel to the river. This dark, mysterious path that runs deep into the mountain entices you. Where does it lead?: Arashiyama Mountain, after which this touristic region takes its name.

You stumble across a strange, handwritten sign with an arrow pointing left. If you can read Japanese, you will know that it says that there is a special viewing point nearby.

According to the sign, the person or group who wrote it goes by the name “Daihikaku.” Who is that, I wonder?

You continue down the lane in the direction of where the sign is directing you and wonder about that strange sign you saw for a while, but very soon you will soon forget about it as you a greeted by beautiful little cascades streaming out from the mountainside.

You continue your leisurely walk down the lane deep into the mountain, taking in the scenery and feeling the light breeze on your face.

This is a small urban adventure in relatively unexplored areas of Arashiyama that you can experience with little effort and, not to mention, courage. All you need is a pair of comfortable shoes and a bit of curiosity to venture off the beaten track!

You might say, “But Yuka, there are no temples or shrines on this walk, and I am in Japan after all!” Well, do you remember that sign you passed earlier? That is an important clue: you have to find out where it leads to on your own!
If you are tired with your daily life, you will certainly appreciate Arashiyama. Enjoy!

How to get there

There are several ways to get to Arashiyama from Kyoto Station.

①    By Train

Take JR Sagano line (also known as JR Sanin line) to Saga-Arashiyama Station (15 minutes). Togetsu-kyo Bridge is a 10 minute walk away.

②    By bus

Take the bus No. 28 to Tenryu-ji Temple. This temple is located in the center of Arashiyama district, and Togetsu-kyo Bridge is close by. However, the journey takes much longer than by train and you may also get stuck in traffic.

③    By bicycle

You can also access Arashiyama by bicycle. There are many shops where you can rent bicycles in Kyoto.