Kurama’s Fire Festival

Kurama is a small town to the very furthest northern reaches of Kyoto. It is so small that only one train goes there, and there are no hotels in which to spend the night. 

As I’ve been sick the last few days, I was unable to attend the Jidai Matsuri, a festival in Kyoto that commemorates Kyoto’s founding by having a promenade of costumes from ever period of Japan. It was simply unrealistic to try and go when I was so tired. However, by the end of the day, I was feeling restless, and Erin told us about a fire festival that would be going on that night. The festival sounded like it was more “Japanese” oriented (not advertised in English) and there was going to be lots of fire, so we decided to go.

Kurama is about a forty minute train ride from northern Kyoto. There is only one train that goes to the town, and it is so tiny that there is no tourist industry. Every year they hold this fire festival, where first torches are lit outside of the houses leading up the mountain, and then later pagodas are carried by teams to the temple at the top.

We arrived right when the action was starting, so it was very crowded on the main street. We decided to work our way up the mountain, since that was where the pagodas would eventually be going, and as we went, all three of us were struck with how absolutely stunning Kurama was. It’s really a beautiful, rustic town, with a river running right through it. It sits right on the edge of the mountain’s forest, and it take all of twenty minutes to walk from one end of the town to the other. Spontaneously, we decided it would be really fun to spend the night there, but to our disappointment, we found out that the town is so small that it doesn’t even have a hotel.

They do have an onsen though.

Following the onsen, we decided we were hungry, so stopped at the small market just outside to pick up some food. There was a bonfire with a bunch of people, so we sat there for a while and giggled every so often when the cute guys looked at us, and especially when Erin attracted attention by picking at her food.

After treating ourselves to a soak in the hot water and that nice dinner, with the smell of the burning cedar everywhere, we decided it was getting late so we ought to head back. I was feeling much better for having warmed up in the onsen, but on our way back down the hill, we were stopped by one of the festival men, who was wearing only a loin cloth and sleeves meant to protect his back from embers. He motioned for us to come out into the street, and suddenly all three of us were holding a rope.... and pulling a pagoda up the mountain with everyone else from the town. It was a truly amazing experience. I got lots of video, which will hopefully be edited and put into a Youtube video pretty soon, when I find the time.

We caught the last train back to Kyoto, though it was hard to forget Kurama that night. I definitely want to go back sometime soon... maybe in the winter when there will be snow.