16th August 2017: 五山送り火 (Gozan no Okuribi) {Japan, summer 2018}

Remember when I mentioned I overdid it on the 15th? I was feeling it today. My head was bugging me and it grew worse along the morning. The weather, showery, was not really helping, even when I took my meds.

Never the less, I left the hotel in the morning, got some breakfast and walked to Kyoto’s old castle, Nijō-jō [二条城], which was literally two blocks over. This was not planned, as when I booked the hotel I looked for something reasonably-priced reasonably-close to a JR or an underground station – I really, really hate Japan buses, trains for the win.

Anyway, the castle was close, so I decided to drop by as the first time I had been around it was being renovated.

After the castle I walked towards the JR station where I had come from the previous day to stop by Shinsen-en [神泉苑], the remains of a Heian Era garden, which holds a sub-temple to To-ji.

Also I snooped into Nijo Jinja [二条神社], just because there was an indication sending me there.

Then I headed off to Kyoto JR station as there is a tourist information centre. There I wanted to ask where to watch the upcoming Gozan no Okuribi [五山送り火], which is a festivity that closes the Obon festival in Kyoto. The Obon festival honours the deaths of the deceased, which come back to the world and are sent away by the five fires started in four mountains around Kyoto. I wanted to see as many fires as possible, and I had been doing some research online. I wanted to find a good place, which in the end turned out to the rooftop of a local Aeon supermarket, the Aeon Mall Gojo.

After getting the info, I went to Higashi Honganji [東本願寺], a temple close to the station.

I wanted to go find its twin, Nishi Honganji, but I was not feeling well and I really wanted to be fine for the evening’s fires – which were after all the reason why my trip was planned like this, so I could go to see the fires. My headache was growing worse, I think part of the reason was that I was stressing that the mall might not be a good place to watch the fires and whether I could go somewhere else. Thus I got something to eat, and headed back to the hotel for a shower, a nap, and some dinner before I left for the mall.

The nap proved to be a good idea. The fires would be lit at 8 pm, so I stayed in the hotel until a little after 5 pm, when I left so I could be at the mall at 6 pm. This gave me time to relocate to another of the viewing spots if my first choice did not work.

But it did. You know you’re on the right track when you find all the locals all ready a picnic, and the Aeon was just like that. There were hotel employees pointing to the areas where we would see the fires. Out of the five fires we would see three, and part of the other two.

There are five fires in the Gozan no Okuribi [五山送り火], and they are lit from right to left. The first one is shaped 大, it is called Migi Daimonji or just Daimonji [大文字]. It is lit at 8pm. The second one is Myojo [妙法], a Buddhist prayer. Next comes the ship that is supposed to take the souls back to the underworld, called Funagata [舟形]. The fourth is the Hidari Daimonji [左大文字], another 大, and the final one is the Toriigata [鳥居形], shaped like a torii.

Everything was good. I could relax and my headache did not come back, even if we had a mini deluge that had everybody going inside for a few minutes.

When it was done and we went all back outside, we had a great sunset.

Finally everything went dark and the fires started. We saw the Migi Daimonji lit first to our right.

Then the sparks of what could have been the Myojo or the Funagata, nobody was too clear on that. Later we saw the Hidari Daimonji lit, just in front of us.

Finally, we got to see the Toriigata after changing sides of the roof.

All in all, it was a great success!! I was really glad I got to go and see it, especially the first and last fire, because it gave everything a sense of beginning and ending, even if I was quite exhausted to make it back to the station and the hotel.