This is an excerpt from Lonely Planet's A Year of Festivals.
Location: Mt Wakakusa-yama, Nara, Japan
Date: Second Sunday in January
Level of Participation: 1 – a cosy night in front of the fire
Winter in the Japanese region of Kansai would seem a good enough excuse for one of the world’s biggest bonfires, but in Nara they point to history as the reason for setting alight an entire hill each year. The event commemorates a feud many centuries ago between the monks of two of Nara’s Buddhist temples – Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji – during which mediation went so badly that 342m Mt Wakakusa-yama ended up being torched. Today, in commemoration, a torch is lit with sacred fire at the Kasuga Taisha shrine, and carried by monks in a procession to the foot of Wakakusa-yama, where the hill is set on fire. It usually burns for around 30 minutes before a whizz-bang show of fireworks.
Essentials: The burning begins at 6pm. The average temperature in Nara in January is 8°C, so rug up – you won’t be near enough to the fire to stay warm. The best viewing is in Nara-kōen, a fine park that occupies much of the east side of the city; arrive early to secure a good position.
Local Attractions: Tōdai-ji and Kōfuku-ji are both World Heritage–listed temples. Tōdai-ji contains the world’s largest wooden building, which holds one of the largest bronze Buddhas. Kōfuku-ji has Japan’s second tallest pagoda.
More Info: Nara City Tourist Center (+81 742 22 3900; http://narashikanko.jp)
See a list of other festivals in January here.