Get ready to witness mind-blowing fiery feats at the Kurama Fire Festival, held in the mountain village of Kurama just outside of Kyoto, Japan. The festival, which takes place for one day sometime between mid to late October, is held in honor of the Yuki Shrine and its spirits through a dazzling parade featuring hundreds of people with flaming torches.
The festival has deep historical roots, dating back to the war-torn Heian period during 794 to 1185, which is when the Yuki Shrine was relocated to Kurama. The parade reenacts the ancient ceremonies practiced by the local villagers to welcome the shrine’s kami spirits into the village, in the hopes it would protect the town from disaster. The processions are nothing short of impressive; the festivities start at dusk as small bonfires light up the front of each home. Samurai armors and other family heirlooms are displayed by families in their homes during the Kurama Fire Festival as part of tradition.
The Kurama Fire Festival is also a rite of passage for young men and women. In the past, only boys were able to participate because of the declining population in Kurama, but today girls can now join in. This is evident during the procession, as you’ll notice that children are first in the parade followed by teenagers. But the highlight of it all are the powerful men who carry huge flaming torches, some of which weigh as much as 80kg! Some village men also carry the mikoshi portable shrines up the road during the parade, a display of incredible strength because the mikoshi are notoriously heavy.
And they do all this wearing minimal traditional garb like loincloths, sandals, and braided rope skirts. The parade culminates at the Yuki Shrine, as the torches are dumped together, creating one big bonfire.
‘Over 10,000 visitors from Japan and all around the world come to see the spectacular Kurama Fire Festival each year.’
This unique festival will give you a glimpse into Japan’s eccentric and rich history, so grab a beer and be prepared for a thrilling cultural display.
The parades start at 6PM in the small village just outside the Kurama Station, about an hour from Kyoto. Due to the crowds, it’s recommended to arrive early and it’s not uncommon for the trains to get too full.
The ceremony ends after midnight, so plan accordingly to make sure you get on the last train back to Kyoto.
It takes an hour to get to Kurama from Kyoto. From the Kyoto Station, take the Keihan Line to Demachiyanagi Station, then transfer to the Eizan Dentetsu Line and depart at Kurama Station. The festival grounds are right on the village streets, which you’ll see as soon as you get out of the station. Once you get there, you can walk around the village to watch the parade.
Getting around on foot is the best way to explore Kyoto. Japan’s train systems are famous around the world for being extremely efficient, and are a great way to get to sights outside the city.
From ryokans to hostels and high-end hotels, Kyoto’s accommodation options have something for everyone. Downtown Kyoto is highly recommended, as you’ll be near some of the best bars, shops, and restaurants.
Other great areas to base yourself in include Southern Higashiyama, Kyoto Station Area, Central Kyoto, Northern Higashiyama, Arashiyama, and Kibune.
Head to the map below for all the hotel deals and Airbnb’s in and around Kyoto.
Kyoto is one of Japan’s most popular tourist destinations there are many epic things to do in Kyoto. It’s filled with history dating back several centuries, vibrant culture, and the most delicious local food. Walk around the city and see if you can spot a geisha (hint: there’s lots of them in Gion).
Before you take pictures at the legendary Inari Taisha Shrine, don’t forget to make a wish at its entrance. Eat and drink your weight’s worth of Japanese food and beer!
The Kurama Fire Festival will be held on October 22, 2019.
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