Nara is famous for being the former capital of Japan and for its park where thousands of deers wander freely and get close to tourist hoping to get some treats.

Wakakusa hill on fire

However, on the last Saturday of every January Nara gets crowded for another reason. On that day Nara celebrates the Yamayaki matsuri, also known as “the grass burning festival”, one of the most important event for the town. During the matsuri the grass of Wakakusa Yama is set alight and flames can be seen all over the city.

The origins of the matsuri are not so clear. The burning of the hillside of mount Wakakusa has been held since 18th century, some say that the reason is to commemorate a feud that involved Nara’s major temples, that’s to say Today-ji, Kofuku-ji and Kasuga shrine. At the time the hill was set on fire to end the conflict. Others say that the practice started to scare wild bears.

A view of the hill in the afternoon sun

This year the matsuri took place on Saturday 25th. Even if I had planned with one of my flatmates to go to Nara, I wasn’t sure until the end whether to go or not. I woke up quite early on Saturday, planning to get there during the morning to have plenty of time to go wondering and visiting Nara before the matsuri started.

However, as I woke up I realized it had started snowing in Kyoto. I thought that maybe the matsuri would be canceled so I spent the morning wondering whether it was worth going or not. After doing some stuff all the students have to deal with when leaving on their own, I made up my mind and decide to go anyway, also cause it seemed that the snow had stopped and it was starting to clear off.

To my surprise in Nara it wasn’t snowing, but there was such a strong wind that even if the weather was fine, it was way colder than in Kyoto. After our delayed lunch, my friend and I went wandering through the park. Despite the cold there where lotsof tourists, most of them busy feeding the deers. For the record, they didn’t take any interest in me, maybe because I din’t buy them food.

Even if minor events had been going on in the morning, it was not until 6 that people started to gather on the park at the foot of Wakakusa Yama. After the fireworks display, the hill was finally set on fire.

As the flames were intensifying, we decided to quit. It was a long day and we couldn’t stand the cold no longer, but also I’m quite scared of fire, so for me it was enough. As we were walking to the station we stopped by to eat some takoyaki (they were super tasty!) and glimpsing at the burning hill.

One of the stands sending food during the matsuri

Once we got on the train we noticed that the mount could be seen also from there, so we enjoyed the last moments of the show.

But the actual surprise for me was went we got home. As we got off the station close our house we were welcomed with snow. I had almost lost hopes I could see snow in Kyoto, but I was wrong. When it comes to snow I feel like a child.

A bit of fireworks display